Bringing Smart Instrumentation to Life Sciences

Kyle Knutson at Emerson Imagine you’re 6’ 5” tall and weigh 150 lbs. If you’re trying to buy clothes, regardless of your fashion sense, when you see something you like the first question you have to ask is, “Do you have it in my size?” The size element outweighs every other consideration, and you have to take what you can get.


Maybe this analogy is a bit silly, but it makes a critical point: sometimes one element of a selection process is far and away the most important and has to be considered first. People who work in the pharmaceutical industry understand what this means, and Kyle Knutson addresses how it affects instrumentation selection in his Pharmaceutical Manufacturing article, Bringing Smart Instrumentation to Life Sciences.


Say an engineer wants to add a pressure transmitter to a bioreactor. There are dozens of units on the market from various suppliers suitable for the application based on the needed range and precision. But, probably more than 95 percent of the options cannot be used because they do not meet requirements imposed by the regulations. Those with threaded connections or a recessed diaphragm need not apply. Ditto for devices with too coarse a surface finish, or the wrong shape. When the specifications necessary to satisfy the regulatory requirements are applied first, the number of possible products drops to a handful, and often less, depending on the application.


In other words, for pharmaceutical manufacturers, there may not be much to choose from, and the smart instrumentation capabilities that engineers working in chemical companies or refineries enjoy simply aren’t available. Or are they? Kyle says the situation is beginning to change.


For many years, regulatory requirements have kept many pharmaceutical producers stuck with basic instrumentation. Regardless of all the advances made across the board with process instruments, when the first selection criterion is hygienic configuration and compliance, none of the others matter. Fortunately, the picture is changing as more smart instrumentation is becoming available using hygienic designs, offering improved performance in many areas.


The Rosemount 3051HT Hygienic Pressure Transmitter is a prime example. But for people who have been working in a pharmaceutical plant, given the historic conditions, they might ask, “What are those smart features you’re talking about? What capabilities should I be looking for?” Kyle explains:


A smart pressure transmitter can provide the basic process variable while simultaneously sending additional information via a digital signal superimposed over the analog value using the HART protocol. [It] can send additional process variables, such as the temperature it is sensing, and it can also monitor its own condition and performance. If something is going wrong with the circuitry used to process the data, it can send a warning of an impending failure. It can retain its own calibration history, and even send a signal if it is approaching the end of a calibration interval. Transmitters with WirelessHART communications can do the same thing, all without the need for cabling.


The article reviews several practical examples of how these capabilities can be put to work, and also examines specific types of instruments designed to take their readings without penetrating the process, so they are not subject to such stringent regulation. In any case, there are many new possibilities that pharmaceutical users should be considering.


Users working in pharmaceutical manufacturing may need to reexamine their underlying assumptions about instrumentation, and how they might be able to use new technologies. There are many products on the market designed specifically for these applications, so it is no longer necessary to live with reduced capabilities to accommodate regulatory requirements.


You can find more information like this, and meet with other people looking at the same kinds of situations in the Emerson Exchange365 community. It’s a place where you can communicate and exchange information with experts and peers in all sorts of industries around the world. Look for the Life Sciences Group and other specialty areas for suggestions and answers.