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Rapid rescheduling is key to better pharma manufacturing

From offline spreadsheets to online, real-time scheduling is essential for pharma manufacturers

Pharmaceutical manufacturing is a complex task involving hundreds of operators, custom-built equipment, multiple raw materials, and tightly integrated processes that must be executed in a synchronized manner. Different departments within a manufacturing site must be constantly exchanging information such that engineering tasks, cleanings, changeovers, clearances, materials preps, sampling, and hundreds of other tasks take place in a timely and orderly fashion. With that level of complexity, small issues on the shop floor can have outsized impacts on the production schedule and the site’s ability to meet their targets. For the pharma industry, there is an increasing recognition that no matter how good an initial schedule is, uncertainties will impact it quickly – often rendering the original plan useless.

To fully utilize resources and maximize throughput, companies now recognize the need for online rescheduling processes, with near-continual updates as new data becomes available. Whether the equipment goes down, operators get sick, or extra time is required to accommodate a specific step in the production process, schedules must be continually changed and updated as issues arise.

For most pharma facilities using manual processes, rescheduling is resource and labor intensive. It diverts the focus of engineers and supervisors from their primary role of overseeing manufacturing and quality control, to collecting and updating physical spreadsheets in a seemingly endless cycle of responding to disruptions.

SmartFactory Rx® enables manufacturers to focus on quality and productivity to fully automate the rescheduling process. This process includes three pillars: real-time data integration, online decision making, and online dispatching and execution.

Real-time data integration

To improve the rescheduling process, it’s necessary to move away from manual data
collection, collation and analysis and instead gather data from many systems across the facility in real-time. The first pillar of Smart Scheduling, then, is to integrate with the many solutions that will help curate that information including:

  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP): ERP systems are used across pharmaceutical enterprises, maintaining crucial real-time data from multiple departments. The integration of the scheduling engine and ERP systems enables real-time updates on raw material inventory levels, production orders, purchase orders and other critical transactional data sets required to generate a realistic schedule.
  • Manufacturing execution system (MES): the integration to MES enables seamless communication between the production floor and the rescheduling engine. It provides an actual picture of the current manufacturing status, including equipment availability, site performance, and process status. Dynamic updates from the production floor enable the generation of informed and feasible schedules that maximize throughput while respecting all manufacturing constraints.
  • Laboratory information management systems (LIMS) and computerized manufacturing maintenance system (CMMS): through integration across departments that usually operate individually – and those that support manufacturing yet impact production decisions – it’s now possible to fully integrate the data and enable better cooperation.

Drawing on our experience in the pharma industry, our powerful real-time engines have been developed to allow schedulers to pull and push data between systems seamlessly, taking the headache out of real-time data collection and curation.

Online decision-making

Using advanced algorithms, SmartFactory Rx enables online rescheduling at the touch of a button.

These algorithms build schedules that optimize business objectives – maximizing on-time completion of batches, minimizing changeovers, and improving resource and operator utilization. Such algorithms couple mathematical optimization with digital twins of the manufacturing site – capturing complex and unique manufacturing procedures, ensuring that scheduling decisions are feasible from a manufacturing perspective.

Building an optimizer into the scheduler is critical, as it allows the schedule to prioritize between a set of alternatives quickly and without human intervention. That means that the best schedule is suggested automatically, without the need to evaluate dozens of alternatives manually.

Automated real-time decision making not only speeds up the rescheduling exercise – which is critical to quickly adapt to demand fluctuations and manufacturing disturbances – but it also removes typos and errors from the decision-making process. The decision is based on data and follows best practices built into the algorithms, no matter which operator, engineer, or scheduler is currently on-shift.

Dispatching and execution

Finally, real-time data and advanced algorithms still need people to read and interpret them. Today, most processes in pharma manufacturing require some operator involvement. This means that operators, technicians, and supervisors need a way to see what is needed of them, and a way to react quickly if those priorities change during the day.

The combination of online dispatching and execution allows rescheduling to be acted on quickly. Web-based tools flow key information seamlessly from the shop floor to schedulers and back to production. When a schedule change is made, updated decisions are communicated directly to the shop floor without the need to print, email or look up an Outlook calendar. Tasks are conveniently displayed to operators based on their priority.

The entire scheduling/rescheduling process is displayed through a simple-to-use web-based interface that can be simultaneously accessed by multiple users in the network.

With instantaneous online rescheduling, SmartFactory Rx Smart Scheduling automates the process making it easy for engineers and supervisors to focus on what matters most: safety, quality, and productivity throughout the manufacturing process.

About the Author

Picture of Lisia Dias PhD
Lisia Dias PhD
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.