This article has been reproduced from Fluid Handling magazine (www.fluidhandlingmag.com) March/April 2016 issue.
In the last 20 years, the design and technology used in tanker loading and unloading systems in the pharmaceutical industry has changed surprisingly little. Tankers are still between 3.2 and 4.2m high, and their conditions fluctuate greatly. Tanker walkways are widely variable and, occasionally, just not there. Solvents are still dangerous, flammable, toxic, or pose environmental hazards. Tanker driver competence is as variable as ever, and concrete remains very hard and humans are very soft.
What has been interesting is that while design and technology has changed very little, documentation, accreditation, surveillance has grown to be a major factor in cost and time. The warning signs are still all there and remain the focus for the need to change or improve access for the operator and handling of the liquid.
What has changed?
But even if some things are never expected to change, the inevitable flow of time is bound to bring on other changes. The aforementioned increase in documentation and regulation has caused the followings changes to come into effect:
- In 2005 the Work at Heights Regulations was implemented throughout Europe. More of which later.
- ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and a number of other ISOs have been brought into play.
- Pharmaceutical companies with long serving and experienced engineers have now moved to contracting out their engineering resource to third parties. This is not necessarily good or bad, but it’s a factor. A project based in London, for example, may see companies working with detail engineering teams on the other side of the world.
- A number of companies have preferred sub-component manufacturers. This becomes interesting when a tried and tested package of equipment has to be reconfigured to meet the site specific needs for valves, switches and solenoids.
- Documentation has increased exponentially. Despite nearly 20 years of supplying virtually identical systems, the growing trend for expediting and micro-management by clients has created a huge increase in cost and time.
Now we have climate controlled rooms and terabytes of data. Twenty years ago project data files consisted of a couple of ring binder folders on shelf behind the engineer who bought the equipment. Is there a clear benefit to the client in this detailed acquisition of “knowledge” or is it a consequence of the litigation culture that invades every aspect of our lives?
Of course, equipment suppliers need to be mindful of this. A client either accepts an offer based on the standard componentry and quality assurance, or makes it very clear from the outset of a project that suppliers will need to source specifically pre-approved components. The difference in cost between a standard and proven scope of supply, versus one with high surveillance and client specified components can be more than double.
How does this affect the client’ decision making when it comes to developing a scheme? A number of agents in the pharmaceuticals industry are taking the seemingly bold stance of filling all tankers from ground level. This is partly due to their interpretation of the Work at Heights Regulations (which suggests it is a good thing, but does qualify that with a “wherever practical” caveat) and the perception that this will be a cheaper solution. The majority of chemicals moved globally are in sea containers. To maximise volume, the design of the ISO tank in the vast majority of cases, is not equipped with vapour return facilities at ground level.
Bottom or top loading?
The pharmaceutical business transfers a great deal of clean solvent and, consequently, waste solvent. These chemicals require precise handling that safeguards operators and the environment. Bottom unloading arms have been utilised extensively over the years and they allow operators to manoeuvre the pipe into position, prepare the tanker and make a secure and repeatable connection, without having to carry a heavy hose and leave pharma grade couplings laying on the floor.
But what happens when an operator wants to bottom fill? Is there a vapour return line at ground level? Statistics suggest there is not, unless the operator has rented a more expensive tanker with a reduced payload. Thus, vapour return will be at the tanker top, presumably via the manhole, because the other feature you will need is a high level device. There is a need to fit a vapour return line at high level with a built-in high level device. Due to weight and handling, this is clearly best served in the form of a loading (vapour) arm. But then the primary issue remains.
How does one get an operator onto and off of the tanker in complete safety? The simple folding stairs with safety cage has been the go-to solution for a long time. But with the tightening of legislation and the variation in tanker profiles and walkway configurations, folding stairs, forever the “vanilla” choice, are no longer the obvious solution. Customers want “tutti frutti” systems that provide greater security, flexibility and range.
The solution is the multi-modal platform, a vertically elevating platform that can be between 4m and 15m in length. It travels through a standard 1.5m range or more with a built-in floor that is removable wherever access to the tanker top is needed. Multi-modal platforms also come with the added benefit of being able to tilt to match the slope on a tanker top.
These systems have been sold successfully by Loadtec Engineering Systems since 1996 all over the world, with December 2016 seeing the company's 20th anniversary. Multi-modals are utterly reliable and provide fool-proof safety with ease of operation. They are manufactured to globally accepted standards and are used by virtually all blue chip pharmaceutical companies somewhere in the world. Furthermore, they are relatively cheap considering the lifespan and advantages they bring.
So, when an enquiry arrives, it is essential to establish whether the client wants a reliable system that works using tried and tested components, or whether they want to reinvent the wheel and cost themselves a small fortune. Clients seem to be diverging into two distinct camps. Those who want a system that is necessarily simple because the total project cost is consumed by bureaucracy, and those who want a future proof, feature-packed system that is globally proven for the same cost.
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