The pharmaceutical industry is vast. From morphine to reduce pain, right the way to chemotherapy, the pharmaceutical industry is at the forefront of researching new ways to treat patients.
Why would non destructive testing be needed in this extensive industry? To understand that, we need to understand more about both the pharmaceutical industry specifically and non destructive testing in general.
What is the pharmaceutical industry?
The use of plants, animals and minerals for their medicinal use has taken place for many years but it was in the 19th century that humans began to carry out intentional drug research, to look to vary the structure of chemical substances and so develop synthetic chemicals for medicinal purposes. Local apothecaries branched out from dispensing botanical drugs such as morphine and quinine to wholesale manufacture and research, and the modern pharmaceutical industry was born.
From here, chemists discovered amphetamine, insulin, penicillin and much more. Chemists looked to develop vaccines to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, beginning the far-reaching vaccination programmes that we see across the world today. Research into the effect of nitrogen mustard on lymphomas in mice in the 1940’s led to the discovery of chemotherapy to treat cancer.
Nowadays, the industry is responsible for discovering, developing, producing and marketing pharmaceutical drugs for use as medication to cure, vaccinate or alleviate symptoms in patients.
With so much at stake it is vital that drugs are produced to their precise requirements. Any defects or corrosion in the manufacturing equipment may lead to leakages that will damage the drugs that are being manufactured. Non destructive testing enables you to check the integrity of your equipment without damaging it.
What is Non Destructive Testing?
Non destructive testing (NDT) helps to identify defects in your equipment in a way that does not cause damage to the parts that are being tested. NDT testing services can be used for a one-off check or can be used regularly to ensure an effective maintenance schedule.
What NDT tests are used in the Pharmaceutical industry?
There are lots of different tests utilised on the machinery used to manufacture drugs in the pharmaceutical industry. Here we look at two of the most common techniques.
1. Ultrasonic testing
Ultrasonic testing covers a range of testing methods that use sound waves to determine whether there are internal defects within metal components. Sound waves are sent out by a probe, and bounce back to a receiver. A computer is used to generate an image from these sound waves. The technician is then able to inspect the image to determine if any flaws are present.
There are a variety of different methods of Ultrasonic Testing, including Phased Array and Time of Flight Diffraction, all of which have slightly different arrangements of probes and receivers that are used in different scenarios. NDT technicians use their experience to determine the best type of test to assess the integrity of the asset.
Ultrasonic tests are useful, as they are completely harmless, and so sites do not need to be evacuated in order for testing to take place.
2. Radiographic testing
Radiographic testing includes any test that uses Gamma-rays or X-rays to penetrate a component and check the structural integrity of the material. A plate is placed behind the asset being tested and rays are projected through it. An image is created on the plate, which is then processed physically into a photograph, or digitally into a computer image. The image can then be inspected for flaws.
Testing on site can be disruptive, as X-rays and Gamma-rays can be harmful to humans. Although recent technology has allowed the cordone area to be reduced considerably.
Why are NDT testing services used in the Pharmaceutical Industry?
1. It identifies potential safety issues
The most important reason why NDT services are used in the Pharmaceutical industry is to ensure the continued safe production of medicines. It is important that no hazardous materials are found and NDT testing services can identify any defects that could lead to leakages that may contaminate the products being produced.
Not only can defects lead to hazardous materials in the products, but they can also lead to pharmacists and technicians being exposed to chemical and biological hazards which may pose a serious threat to them. NDT helps ensure equipment is regularly inspected for defects, corrosion or leakages to avoid any serious problems.
2. For equipment maintenance
Secondly, NDT testing improves the lifelong performance of the equipment being used on the manufacturing line. This improves the profitability of pharmaceutical companies.
Implementing a regular maintenance system can help to overcome challenges with equipment, as defects can be easily identified and repairs can be made swiftly. These testing methods can provide valuable insight, as they also identify areas of weakness that may need addressing in the future allowing issues to be dealt with in a timely manner.
Regular maintenance helps enhance the performance of assets, equipment and sites; decreasing the amount of time that they are out of use for maintenance and decreasing overall maintenance costs.
3. Because it causes no damage
FInally, NDT methods can be applied without causing damage to the components that it is testing. This means that it can be used to inspect equipment while it is in situ, and in many cases a site can run almost as normal while the testing is taking place. NDT can be used on large equipment such as storage tanks, as well as smaller metal components, pipework and machined components.
NDT Testing services in the Pharmaceutical Industry
The pharmaceutical industry is vast and it is essential that safety is at the forefront. NDT can be used as part of a regular maintenance system to ensure that any defects are identified and repaired quickly, thus ensuring safety and quality control are preserved. As NDT causes no damage to equipment it can often be applied in situ, meaning there is less impact on your work schedules.