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Quality Control Lab Scheduling

Implement single integrated model, using offline/online digital twin model for simulating process and debottlenecking improvements.
Implement single integrated model, using offline/online digital twin model for simulating process and debottlenecking improvements.


With SmartFactory Rx, you can realize a 20% reduction in QC Lab tests and raw material release times. Quality Control Labs at pharmaceutical production sites have many competing priorities. Raw materials require strict testing to assure their quality before becoming available to production.

Within the production trains themselves, there are In-Process Control tests. And after each stage of production, there are intermediate tests with a final API test at the end. The In-Process Control tests require extremely fast turnaround times since production can be delayed waiting for the results.

Raw material tests have dates that they need to meet in order to satisfy the production without building excessive inventory. Intermediate and final tests have dates that they need to meet. And not to be forgotten, stability tests also have dates that have to be met.

In summary, the QC Lab is a critical part of the overall flow in production and the competing priorities make for a very complex scheduling problem. Add to that the opportunity to improve efficiencies through more optimized grouping of tests coupled with properly multitasking the lab analysts, the problem gets bigger and more complex. If someone calls in sick, plans must change immediately.

Out-of-spec test results require someone to be assigned to investigate and adapt. As you can see, there is a tremendous opportunity to make QC Labs more efficient through optimized scheduling that responds quickly to events and synchronizes the work in the lab with production needs. SmartFactory Rx provides adaptive, optimized real-time schedules for equipment and personnel.

Scheduling is really a rescheduling problem. No matter how good your current schedule is, there will be real-world anomalies which surface which invalidates your schedule. SmartFactory Rx is designed to automatically respond to anomalies either programmatically from changes in the input data or from manual input to quickly adapt and create a new optimal schedule.

Now I’m going to demonstrate how SmartFactory Rx can schedule a QC Lab. We start with a very rich dashboard showing the key performance indicators used to drive performance improvements. Just as athletes are motivated by a scoreboard showing the results of the game, production and QC Lab personnel can see their key metrics. Now we’ll look at a production schedule that has already been generated by the scheduling engine. You can see in this production schedule, batches have a nice cascading sequence in accordance with the required start and finish times that come from the enterprise planning system. It gets more exciting when we drill into one particular batch and we see a coordinated schedule where production is synchronized with the QC Lab. In this batch, we see an IPC test at this point in production along with multiple final API tests which are scheduled in parallel at the end. Remember, all tests in the QC Lab for all materials and batches are generated by the optimizer in coordination with the production requirements so that all dates are satisfied. Now let’s focus on the QC Lab and take a look at the metrics of the generated schedule.

We see from the schedule the average times of the different tests. But I want to dig deeper to see which constraints are restricting my throughput the most. This graph shows the different tests by drug.

The closer to the center of the graph indicates the test was scheduled with minimal delay. I see that my IPC tests are conducted with minimal delay which is good. Let’s drill in on the ASH test.

I see in this schedule there are many ASH tests and as shown in the legend, there are many tests that were delayed waiting an available analyst and available equipment. This is critical information for management to determine when to add resources to the lab. Now let’s look at the detailed calendar for analysts.

I’ll zoom in on team one which is on a rotating shift. I see the activities scheduled for each team member during their assigned shift for each day of the schedule. Let’s work through a common schedule change together.

Alesia Berger notifies me that she will be unavailable this entire week. I enter her urgent time off schedule change directly into the calendar. Now I want the scheduling engine to optimize the activity around this schedule change information.

Let’s run the schedule again. It is now optimizing the schedule including the grouping of tests, sequencing the tests, and putting the right analyst in the right place at the right time, etc. The scheduling engine is amazingly fast as you can see.

I look back at the calendar just to see that Alesia’s schedule has been cleared for that time period and her activities were placed elsewhere in the schedule. I’ll take a quick look at the dashboard to make sure that all of my production is still on time and I see that it is. We just stepped through a manual change that generated a new schedule.

But even more powerful is the software’s ability to listen to real-time events to react automatically with an updated schedule. Something that we call sense and respond. As stated earlier, the problem that SmartFactory Rx solves is to provide optimized, adaptive, detailed schedules for equipment and personnel.

The benefits are we anticipate being able to reduce test and raw material release times by at least 20%. We anticipate a reduction in drug safety stock and raw material stock by at least 15%. The resulting schedules allow the delivery of more timely QA test results which reduces the risk of low-quality product with better adherence to test prioritization.

SmartFactory Rx will create optimal schedules while reducing scheduled labor by 80% or more. We hope you have enjoyed this video on the Scheduling of QC Labs. Feel free to view the other videos in our SmartFactory Rx video collection.

Thank you.

About the Author

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Smart Scheduling Team
The SmartFactory Rx Team develops integrated automation solutions for process manufacturing to harness the power of data, reduce development time and improve productivity to optimize high value manufacturing. It increases throughput, decreases risk, and accelerates time to market for new products. For more details, connect with us on LinkedIn.