Recently we had the opportunity to talk with Gilad Langer, manager of factory information systems for NNE Pharmaplan, the world’s leading engineering and consulting company in the complex fields of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology. We wanted to know his thoughts on the role of manufacturing execution systems (MES) in the life sciences.
Q: How do you see the role of MES evolving for life sciences manufacturers?
A: Life sciences companies are looking at MES much more strategically than they have previously. It’s no longer every site doing what they want. MES is becoming a strategic program within companies for consolidation, not only from an IT perspective, but also from a Lean or operational excellence perspective. They’re using MES to leverage process standardization across the network of plants they operate.
Q: How does technology platform standardization help a global manufacturing company?
A: Obviously, there’s the cost of ownership of the system itself. As they move the technology into different plants, manufacturers can become better at deploying MES. Consider a manufacturing network of 50 sites. MES systems are thought to be hard to implement: challenging implementation processes, a lot of training and learning, and so on. So by doing it at the first site, then doing it again, they should get increasingly efficient at implementation. Many in the life sciences industry have done this. By replicating it from site to site, they facilitate learning in the organization, and it becomes cheaper and easier to implement the technology. This increases the value of MES over time.
Q: Does standardization help in comparing results from multiple sites and seeing the complete manufacturing audit trail?
A: Yes. Apart from the fact that it becomes less costly to implement over time, there are other significant benefits. It enforces the standardization of processes across disparate sites. If they’re doing the packaging a certain way at one site, they can show that the packaging can be done at other sites. There is also the benefit of learning from each other. These systems give them visibility into the performance of the manufacturing sites. For example, once they solve a process problem in one site, they can leverage that knowledge at the other sites. Consequently, the benefits accrue at an enterprise level.
Q: How can individual sites handle their local requirements, such as languages, time zones, and shifts?
A: Local requirements are a big challenge when standardizing technology platforms, and there are different ways of solving this issue. Which solution they pick really depends on the company and the type of processes in place. The flexibility of the technology platform is an important aspect of being able to accommodate specific site requirements. Site requirements that have to do with languages or time zones are typically part of the platform solution; but, special requirements for sites are a challenge to manage centrally. There are different options and strategies for this, but typically they depend on the company involved.
Q: What are manufacturers’ priorities when selecting an MES?
A: Given that the technology platform typically has to be rolled out to multiple sites in parallel, it is important to consider the organizations behind the platforms and the mechanisms involved. Choosing the right company to provide the software and engineering services is crucial. How do they provide the solution? What is their ability to deliver and support globally?
A key aspect to consider is knowledge transfer. They want to become better as they go from site to site. If they’re implementing in disparate geographies, the vendors delivering the solution have to show how they assimilate knowledge and experience across different implementation teams, and how they learn through the implementation process. The differentiating challenge really is the delivery.