How Is Automation Improving Efficiency In The Pharmaceutical Sector?

Jon Lawson

Vinu Kurup discusses how automation technology and mobility solutions are improving efficiency, availability and accessibility of production within the pharmaceutical sector.

With competition fierce and demand high, today’s pharma companies need to be more agile and scalable than ever. Although awareness exists about the opportunities offered by digitalisation, many companies remain challenged in creating efficient workflows in a highly validated environment. The ability to get useable data in and out of the machines and to use it in a consistent and conformal way, avoiding double and triple entry into the various systems, is critical.

Automation For API & Fermentation

With this objective in mind, Anthem Bioscience, an Indian-based contract research organisation (CRO), turned to ABB to design, engineer and install a unified API, fermentation, building management system and environmental monitoring system at its new pharmaceutical facility in Bangalore.

ABB worked closely with Anthem Bioscience to ensure its manufacturing operations would run as efficiently as possible, with minimal downtime while still complying with stringent regulations and practices. The company developed a single automation system for both API and fermentation that would ensure a complete view of plant operations over a single system, ensuring better control, improved uptime and reliability as well as higher productivity.

Using ABB Ability manufacturing operations management (MOM) software, the company was able to deliver plant-wide data access and insights needed for real-time, accurate decision making by the management team in regards to process improvements, production planning, quality control, inventory and asset management and maintenance operations.

The Benefits of API Automation

With this system in place, operators at the plant can easily understand how the plant is performing at the click of a button. The system delivers harmonised data and reporting information that allows operators to readily visualise the potential for improvement, understand and prioritise actions to improve efficiency, find and solve production bottlenecks and analyse causes for lost capacity or equipment downtime.

An Automated Building Management System

A building management system (BMS) was integrated into the common distributed control system (DCS) based on ABB Ability System 800xA, which is not only a DCS but also an electrical control system, a safety system and a collaboration enabler. Anthem is now able to monitor and control the environmental conditions of its manufacturing facility, including temperature, relative humidity, ventilation and differential pressure functions.

Integration of process automation and an effective energy monitoring system have made a crucial difference. Having all of these elements within one unified system that delivers remote and real-time data has ensured the entire plant can operate at optimum capacity. Anthem also made use of ABB’s Remote I/Os concept and adopted the intelligent MCCs integrating the controls through the DCS, reducing cable and installation time and costs.

The Flexibility Of Automation

A key component of the brief from Anthem was to ensure the mobility of the system and solutions provided. Affording industrial plant operators the same flexibility, accessibility and availability as office workers was a key driver. The team wanted an environment where plant operations could thrive with a mobile workforce that could access control system data in real-time, anywhere at the facility. This was particularly important for addressing critical operations and troubleshooting in the field.

To achieve this, ABB built a Mobile Operator Workplace into its system, which enabled operators and management to view their entire plant operations and get alerts on customised iPads and mobile devices.

This approach offered Anthem improved visibility into its current plant status, regardless of the user’s location, and enabled remote monitoring and control for field operations and maintenance activities. Moreover, it has removed a reliance on hardware, by virtualising servers and operator stations, providing higher reliability, access and availability from anywhere on the network.

Ensuring Quality Standards In Automation

The solution for Anthem complies with global standard practices, including US FDA norms and 21 CFR Part 11, ISA 88, NFX1 and GAMP V. This means that Anthem can confidently comply to quality standards demanded by these international bodies not only for upstream and downstream processes, but also PAS controls and monitoring of cleanrooms, equipment cleaning and sterilisation, and PW & WFI distribution and environmental management systems.

Furthermore, by automating all the processes within the plant, operators can quickly communicate and respond to issues and emergencies as and when they occur, placing safety, security and incident response (both occupational and cyber) at the top of the agenda.Customer collaboration

Production at the facility began in 2017 and has been successfully operational for the past two years. Moving forwards, Anthem has recently instructed ABB to support it in expanding the scope of the initial project which will include the addition of new bioreactors into the existing facility. Further solutions such as the adoption and integration of predictive maintenance technology are planned for the future.

Vinu Kurup is with ABB Energy Industries

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