Using MES pharmaceutical manufacturing technology to overcome 3 challenges

Pharmaceutical manufacturing is a challenging sector. As the industry becomes even more heavily regulated, manufacturers are under pressure to produce high quality drugs, whilst keeping costs down.

Due to the complex nature of pharmaceutical manufacturing, errors can be made, timelines can be delayed and costs can soar. However, more companies are turning to the latest pharmaceutical manufacturing technology to overcome hurdles.

1. Production rates

Pharmaceutical companies must meet challenging production targets. However, it can be difficult to manually measure success. It is especially challenging when finished products leave the line in a range of forms, such as containers, pallets, or boxes. If a drug product is held in a container, for example, it can be difficult to assess the true rate of production. This is because it cannot physically be seen. Many companies resort to weighing the product separately and working out the amount of material minus the container weight. However, MES gets this information real time and knows how much material went into the container.

This shows that the latest technology can provide clarity. MES systems, for example, can also count production in real time. This makes production rates immediately visible. It also helps to flag any production issues as soon as they occur. For example, if the wrong material or an out of spec or date material was introduced to the line, the MES system would know this. The system would also reject the components made from this material.

2. Downtime

Downtime is a significant problem for many manufacturers. This is because it leads to lost production and it can drastically reduce profits. For companies working on high volume, low margin projects, it is particularly worrying. In addition to this, manufacturers have to take into account wasted resources whilst their machines are not operating, especially if their workforce is prevented from working.

Most companies record downtime as accurately as they can, however, two key problems still persist:

  • It is often recorded on paper, manually, after the event has taken place. Therefore, downtime is rarely recorded accurately, especially if it only lasted for a short period.
  • The paper records need to be collated and added to a tool that can analyse the downtime. This can be time-consuming, and it can prevent employees from continuing with their work. It can also be difficult to share this kind of work across multiple departments. For example, the production and maintenance teams may have calculated the downtime differently.

This is why many companies are turning to MES systems to gather more accurate, real time data. There are two key ways in which MES is helping manufacturers today:

  • Automatic recording. By directly connecting to the machines, automatic recording can be measured when the stop signal is taken from the PLC via the OPC. This means that the start and stop times are extremely accurate. Fault codes from the PLC are also captured. At this point, operators can evaluate the downtime events and add a reason for the downtime.
  • Manual electronic recording. This allows operators to enter downtime events directly into the MES system. They can do this either when the event occurs, or before the end of their shift. This way, operators can record downtime against each production run and each shift. They enter the duration and the cause so that it can be analysed easily.

3. Waste

Pharmaceutical manufacturers are also under pressure to record and reduce their waste. This is a prominent issue, because it has an adverse effect on costs and re-work, which can lead to significant losses.

Scrap waste is usually recorded in an ERP system, which can compare the output produced against the input materials. However, this does not show manufacturers where the losses are coming from in a fast and effective way. This means that operators cannot act in a swift manner to avoid further losses. Typical ERP systems do not record the loss in real time or in sufficient detail, which means that the company cannot review and improve activities.

In contrast, MES technology provides companies with a range of reports. This allows spoilage to be investigated by machine, crew, shift, line, reason, department, product and much more. For example:

  • Spoilage pareto analysis can be viewed by machine and reason.
  • Spoilage trends can be monitored by shift, day, week, or month.
  • The system also calculates relevant KPIs, such as quality rate and FTTQ.
  • Spoilage is shown on easy-to-use dashboards.
  • Alarms can also be raised via emails and text messages.

Digital pharma: using technology to get ahead

Manufacturers clearly face a difficult task, as they work to reduce waste and downtime, whilst also increasing production rates. Do you need to optimise your manufacturing process? Contact us to find out more about how we could help you.