Choosing a pump for biologics or pharmaceutical manufacturing can be a daunting process. There are close to 50 different, overlapping technology options that meet at least some of the needs for any given application. Narrowing down the field and picking the best pump involves understanding the risks involved with handling sensitive materials and the equipment options available.
Is the application concerned with high purity and sterility? Does it require high or low flow volume? Is the material sensitive to materials compatibility issues? What about heat and shear sensitivity? For most biologic manufacturing these questions can vary slightly but they tend to share the same requirement: pumps must operate with minimal impact on the material they are moving.
Additionally, it’s essential to understand whether single-use or multi-use equipment is necessary for facility flexibility and cost savings. Single-use technologies can reduce significant financial and operational risks associated with biologics manufacturing. And, while single-use pumps reduce downtime and increase batch consistency, the best pump may need to handle both single-use and multi-use configurations.
With all these factors in mind, what pump types are on the market, and what are the main concerns associated with each?
Peristaltic (Hose) Pumps: fluid is moved through a tube, via compression and release, by a rotor. Known to have limitations around flow and pressure, these pumps may also release contaminants into the product stream as the hose breaks down over time. While they are appropriate for some applications they are not necessarily the best choice for biologics.
Lobe Pumps: fluid is moved through the space created between two lobes as they rotate. With no single-use option available, these pumps can be costly to set up and maintain. Additionally, they tend to experience slippage and leakage as well as increasing the risk of external contamination and heat damage. Depending on the application these pumps can do significant harm to the manufacturing process and should be used only after careful consideration.
Centrifugal Pumps: fluid is moved by an impeller rotating. Because they are not positive displacement there is a risk of losing flow control if there’s a change to discharge conditions. Centrifugal pumps may also require expensive and time-consuming maintenance to replace the single-use components involved. They can also cause heat buildup and other issues that lead to biologic product damage or contamination. As a result, they are not commonly used in pharmaceutical processes at this time.
Piston Pumps: fluid is moved by piston generated suction and pressure. There are no widely available single-use choices for piston pumps at this time. This is because they are generally mechanically complex, which can lead to higher maintenance costs and manufacturing quality concerns due to equipment malfunction. They are also not a top choice for biologic production.
Quaternary Diaphragm Pumps: fluid is moved by four-pistons working together to enable a heartbeat-like, gentle flow. Brought to the market by Quattroflow, these pumps represent a significant improvement to pump technology. Single-use quaternary diaphragm pumps are sterile, efficient, and simple to maintain. They are available in a variety of sizes, accommodating high or low flow and pressure situations without risking damage to sensitive biologics. For facilities that require stainless steel equipment, multi-use pumps are available or single-use pumps can easily be converted over.
Quaternary diaphragm pumps are the clear best pump choice in biologic manufacturing. While there are advantages to each pump type there are also costly downsides. The quaternary diaphragm pumps are designed to have little to no impact on pumped materials while having a significant, beneficial impact on operating costs. This is truly a best-case scenario for most biologic manufacturing facilities.