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Top 10 Tips For Troubleshooting A Bioreactor

Top 10 Tips for Troubleshooting a Bioreactor

Many times, when a complex piece of process equipment is part of a deviation, it can be difficult to pinpoint the root cause.

This is partly because the root cause now involves reaching out beyond your core group and working with teams such as Maintenance, Engineering and Instrumentation.

In that case, getting to the root cause will be a team effort.

See below for the top 10 things that could cause a bioreactor to suddenly not be able to hold temperature.

Figure 1: 10 Tips for Troubleshooting a Bioreactor

1.  Frayed wire connection to temperature transmitter

One of the first places to look is at the transmitter itself, especially in high traffic areas or where the temperature transmitter is routinely removed for cleaning. The insulation around the wire may have become damaged leading to inaccurate temperature readings.

2.  Temperature transmitter out of calibration

It could also be that the transmitter just needs to get re-calibrated. Work with your Maintenance teams to ensure that routine maintenance PM (Preventative Maintenance) and calibration activities are performed in time.

3.  Temperature probe (sensor) is broken

We discussed what a thermocouple was in a previous post. The thermocouple or probe connected to the temperature transmitter could have become damaged when being inserted or removed from the bioreactor. It may need to be repaired or replaced altogether.

4.  Frayed transfer cable to the Data Historian

The data historian is the dashboard that tracks all process conditions (temperature, pressure, flow rates, etc) in real time. This would be a separate cable that takes the data being generated from the transmitter back to a computer server. Sometimes the issue is not with the transmitter at all, but how that data is being transferred to the computer server.

5.  Electrical failure at the temperature transmitter

The temperature transmitter relies on a steady power supply to operate. If there has been a power surge recently or some other electrical issue, that could be affecting how the temperature transmitter operates. Work with your Maintenance team and/or certified electrician to get the power back on to the transmitter.

6.  No/low steam to bioreactor jacket

Sometimes, it’s not the transmitter at all. It’s the steam flow to the bioreactor itself that’s the issue. Steam is a popular way to supply heat to the jacket of a bioreactor. Check with the steam supply room to ensure the boiler isn’t down or that steam flow hasn’t been impacted.

7.  Leaking steam trap

A steam trap is used to remove liquid condensate from the steam line to keep the steam flow as dry as possible. If the steam trap is leaking, then it’s not being as efficient in keeping the steam dry and impacting the ability of the bioreactor to retain heat. Replacing the internals of the steam trap, such as the internal spring for example, may do the trick. Other times, the entire steam trap needs to be replaced all together.

8.  Leak at steam piping connection

If it’s not the steam trap, then the piping connection to the bioreactor may be the culprit. Although rare, the steam piping itself may be leaking. Repairing this leak is essential to restoring steam flow and saving you on utility costs as well.

9.  Steam condensate return plugged

Sometimes, parts and other consumables get stuck in the piping and can prevent the steam condensate from draining out of the bioreactor. Instead of steam accumulating in the bioreactor jacket, water starts to accumulate instead. That’s a sure way to lose temperature on the bioreactor. Be sure to clear all lines during return to service activities prior to using the bioreactor.

10. Bioreactor improperly sealed

If the bioreactor is not sealed properly, that will allow the precious contents of the bioreactor and the heat associated with it to potentially escape. Sealing the bioreactor is important prior to use. A good pressure check should be performed to ensure there are no leaks prior to using the bioreactor.


By following these tips, your next bioreactor deviation won’t be such a nightmare. Just be systematic in your approach and work through each component one by one. This way, you’ll end up with a clear cut root cause.

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