A proven option to optimize production efficiency is now working its way through the pharma and biotech world: air casters. This technology, similar to air hockey pucks, uses compressed air to ‘float’ tanks, casks, and columns on cleanroom floors with potentially no damage to the floor, equipment, or the cleanliness of the environment. This moving system can contribute to continuous manufacturing initiatives, increase the potential for achieving EMA-approved clean room compliance, and facilitate ergonomic goals to meet the needs of employee safety. A case study regarding chromatography columns pinpoints key reasons to consider air casters when moving loads up to 13–18 metric tons.
The goal in pharmaceutical production is to consistently reduce human error, enable more flexible product tracking and tracing, and optimise production efficiency and throughput. An integral part of any manufacturing and testing workflow is regularly relocating equipment. Chromatography columns, for example, must be regularly cleaned and repacked. This logistical element of the workflow offers ample opportunity for improvement that can yield overall improved efficiency and throughput.
Unfortunately, maneuvering heavy equipment through cleanroom, production, or test lab environments is a challenge for pharmaceutical and biotech firms. Choosing the optimal material handling system relies on factors including facility characteristics, production process, and the equipment to be moved.
One innovative option that can satisfy a range of needs should float to the top of anyone’s list: hovercraft technology that can move heavy, awkward, delicate, and/or sensitive loads with ease – even in dense manufacturing environments or pristine cleanroom areas. Medical-grade manufacturing processes are made easier by capturing the power of compressed air to ‘float’ equipment, casks, chromatography columns, tanks, tools, production and test equipment with ease and efficiency.
What Are Air Casters?
Originally developed for use in the aerospace industry, air casters are inflatable, donut-shaped bags that use compressed air to create a thin film upon which multi-ton loads can float. Once the bags have inflated, excess air escapes underneath and creates lift. This film of air, no thicker than a business card, reduces the friction coefficient of the load to around one percent, so air casters require only about one-tenth the force to move as wheeled casters. A 2.26 metric ton column, for example, would need only 2 to 11 kg of force to move, something even a single operator can manage. A wheeled caster, by contrast, would require as much as 136 kg of force to move across most floor surfaces.