Pressure and level sensors vital for biotech purposes

Biotechnological processes are transforming many aspects of commerce and industry. Managing and monitoring those processes is vital, so having the right sensors for the job remains critical.

Biotechnological processes are transforming many aspects of commerce and industry. Managing and monitoring those processes is vital, so having the right sensors for the job remains critical.

As biotechnology expands into a broader range of industries, companies are incorporating pressure and level sensors to keep on top of their manufacturing processes. One such company is the Spanish firm TECNIC Bioprocess Equipment Manufacturing. It supports its customers through all phases of the implementation of a bioprocess. TECNIC relies on measuring instruments from VEGA for its level and pressure instrumentation.

TECNIC has grown rapidly since its founding 10 years ago. It is a specialist in equipment for biotechnological and pharmaceutical applications for laboratories, pilot plants and full-scale production facilities. It also has BSL2 laboratories for cell and microbial cultures that it uses to support its customers.

TECNIC operations manager Manel Estany is proud of the efforts of his company.

“We support our customers in planning equipment for upstream or downstream processes and the scale-up phase. We act as a link between the R&D and production departments, offering scalable solutions to speed up the industrialisation process,” he said.

What is TECNIC doing?

In the first few years, the focus was purely on pharmaceutical applications. In 2018, a new department for biotechnology was added. Since then, the company has dealt with all the main processes in biotechnology. It produces equipment for both upstream and downstream operations. TECNIC has a range of equipment for laboratory, pilot, and production applications.

Bioreactors reproduce optimal conditions for growing cell or microbial cultures by regulating temperature, pH value and partial pressure of oxygen. They are also used for regulating the concentration of dissolved gases and potentially the optical density, cell density or dissolved CO2. The dissolved oxygen in the culture medium is controlled using a cascade control system. That system involves variables such as stirring, ventilation or oxygen-enriched aeration. To ensure the sterility of the biological reactor, sterile influx valves and a fully aseptic sampling system were developed and designed to be connected to the SIP (Sterilisation in Place) system.

A wide range of VEGA sensors

TECNIC has installed a variety of VEGA sensors in the processing systems. These deliver analogue and digital signals to TECNIC’s eSCADA software. The software manages the control parameters and ensures that the recipes are adhered to in compliance with GAMP5 and CFR21.

“We set up and commission all the sensors ourselves. But if we need help, we can always rely on VEGA’s technical support,” said Estany.

VEGABAR 28 is the standard sensor for pressure measurement. It is used to regulate the sterilisation processes in the bioreactors. The sensor is crucial in maintaining a pressure of 1.3 bar. It is a universally applicable pressure sensor with a ceramic measuring cell for measuring gases, vapours, and liquids at temperatures up to 130 °C. The sensor element is the proven ceramic CERTEC measuring cell, which features long-term stability and high overload resistance.

The VEGABAR 29 is the standard pressure sensor used for tangential flow filtration systems (TFF). TECNIC uses the VEGABAR 29 primarily in the downstream applications of biotechnological processes. The sensor monitors the Trans Membrane Pressure (TMP), a critical process value for efficient filtration. This process parameter is the inflowing material’s average pressure on the diaphragm’s permeate side. TECNIC’s tangential filtration system (TFF) is fully automated so that the TMP can be pre-defined.

Probes and switches

Although the capacitive rod probe VEGACAL 62 is only used occasionally by TECNIC, it is important for Cleaning in Place (CIP) components because of its high chemical resistance. VEGAFLEX 81 is used frequently at various points in different processes. For example, the VEGAFLEX 81 measures the level in the tangential flow filtration tanks. It delivers reliable measured values, an absolute must for tank regulation.

VEGAPOINT 11 and VEGAPOINT 23 are level switches used to monitor the level wherever ASME-BPE, EHEDG or GMP standards must be complied with. They are quick and easy to install due to their universal connections for hygienic adapters. The sensors can be deployed without calibration or adjustment.

The compact radar sensor VEGAPULS 21 is used for non-critical volume monitoring that requires no direct contact with the medium. It is suitable for measuring various critical volumes, where non-contact level sensing needs to be made with higher accuracy and hygiene compliance. This 80-GHz radar sensor, designed for continuous level measurement of liquids, is designed for applications with SIP processes.

VEGASWING 51 and VEGASWING 61 are vibrating level switches. They are installed in the bioprocessing systems, especially in areas where ASME-BPE, EHEDG or GMP specifications do not apply.

Viscous and turbulent media conditions

Reliable measured values are crucial for these elaborate, hi-tech processes. Since it started making bioprocessing equipment five years ago, TECNIC has relied almost exclusively on sensors from VEGA for pressure and level measurement.

“Due to the sterilisation processes, the temperatures range from -10 °C to +140 °C in most applications. We often deal with viscous and turbulent media. However, the steam and CIP spray heads also strain the sensors,” said Estany.

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