Established in the Agen (France) region since its creation in 1935, the UPSA pharmaceutical laboratory has two production sites, which manufacture all 250 of its finished products sold throughout the world. UPSA has chosen to rely on Asystom to enable predictive maintenance of its air handling units (AHUs), within its powder manufacturing workshops. These AHUs are critical elements for the laboratory because they not only allow the workshops to be placed under overpressure in order to avoid any sanitary contamination, but also to dry the air, a necessity for powder and effervescent production units.


Limit the risks and additional costs associated with an unscheduled production shutdown

Founded in 1935 by Doctor Camille Bru, UPSA (for Union of Applied Scientific Pharmacology) is a pharmaceutical laboratory firmly anchored in the Agen region. Its 250 products, produced exclusively in the laboratory’s two French factories, allow it to ensure a presence not only in 100% of France’s pharmacies, but also internationally (UPSA realizes 48% of its turnover in exports).

The laboratory produces 15 boxes of drugs every second, with effervescence as its main trademark. But producing effervescents and powders requires having clean areas with dry air. The workshops must also be placed under overpressure, in order to avoid any risk of health contamination. To this end, the production sites are equipped with several air handling units, or AHUs.

On our site, we have nearly 250 AHUs. Over the years, the probability of a failure occurring will increase … If the fan of an air handling unit breaks down, this not only results in an immediate shutdown of production, but also two additional days of shutdown, the time of its repair … It is estimated that each unplanned shutdown of production due to a breakdown costs us between 40,000 and 50,000 euros”, explains Jean-Pierre Bourroux, Infrastructure Maintenance Manager at UPSA, in charge of the project.

To limit these additional costs, the laboratory was looking to equip itself with a predictive maintenance solution, which would allow it to be able to closely monitor its machines and to anticipate possible breakdowns. The teams identified the solution proposed by the start-up Asystom, which caught their attention because it is the only wireless solution on the market. “It was this aspect that really appealed to us. Asystom multi-sensor beacons are installed inside the air handling units, attached to the fan motors. They communicate through a LoRa wireless network created by a gateway. So, with a single gateway, we can monitor multiple machines. There is no need for cables to connect one to the other, making installation easier and cheaper! », Adds Jean-Pierre Bourroux.

The Asystom solution was installed in part of a powder manufacturing workshop, at the end of 2019, during one of the technical shutdowns (traditionally scheduled between Christmas and New Year). This allowed UPSA to rigorously test what this type of technology can bring to the process and to monitor the infrastructure used in the clean room production chain. The complete solution was fully operational when production resumed in January.


A solution that quickly demonstrates its effectiveness

Since installing the solution offered by Asystom, we can monitor continuously the condition of the fans of the equipped air handling units. If we realize that one of the fans is drifting, it is now possible for us to carry out preventive maintenance operations during a scheduled technical shutdown: in short, we can now carry out a repair, so that the breakdown does not happen! », Specifies Mr. Bourroux.

At the end of May 2020, during an overview of the dashboards of the machines monitored by Asystom, the teams noted that an AHU had a balancing problem. This early information made it possible to plan an intervention during the next technical shutdown, in August, with the minimum impact on production.

Personally, I see several advantages to using the solution developed by Asystom. On the one hand, it allows us to avoid the additional costs associated with an uncontrolled production shutdown and emergency repairs. But, beyond this significant financial aspect, I also see a real effect on the motivation of the teams: Asystom supports our technicians step by step and trains them to develop their skills in vibration analysis, in order to make them as autonomous as possible. During installation, Asystom teaches them how to position the beacons, how best to configure them to adapt their operation to the machine they supervise, etc. They are then trained in the use of the solution itself (setting of alerts and trigger rules, interpretation of analytical curves, etc.). They feel truly valued by this contribution of new technology as well as by this gaining of new skills, new know-how. Finally, there is clearly a de-stressing effect: we have better control of the installations, we can prevent breakdowns, which makes it possible to avoid emergency interventions, which are more prone to accidents» adds the Infrastructure Maintenance Manager.

Pierre Naccache, President and Founder of Asystom, adds: “The advantage of our technology is that it provides an immediate response to a need for remote and continuous machine monitoring, as well as a quick return on investment. But beyond this first step, we systematically observe that the monitoring of the general condition of a machine is not enough and that it is necessary to also have a detailed analysis, to be able to diagnose what are the precise elements of any malfunction. This is what Asystom enables from its remote viewing platform. ”


A larger-scale deployment of the Asystom solution is already scheduled

This first test phase really convinced the laboratory teams. Whilst to date only one workshop is partially equipped with the Asystom solution, at the end of the year, during the next technical break a second will also be equipped. As part of the process, a program will be put in place which will equip all the critical dry air AHUs on the site: the necessary beacons have already been ordered.