How migrating to MES technology can help companies optimize their performance and how implementing a support model can maximize investment.
Pharmaceutical manufacturing processes are constantly evolving, driven by technological developments and the new possibilities presented by the emergence of Industry 4.0. Transitioning to manufacturing execution system (MES) technology can offer tangible business benefits to help manufacturers improve efficiency and optimize their production processes as they adapt to this new environment.
However, implementing new technology can be a complex process that often requires outsourced support to ensure availability of skilled resources to maintain the systems and their compliance status, both in the short and long term. Critically, to guarantee return on investment (ROI), MES technology needs to be updated and supported after go-live. Rather than an afterthought, this needs to be considered and designed at the start of a project in order to deliver the level of support required by the manufacturing process.
Optimizing Business Performance Through MES
MES technology is transforming how companies operate, aiding in the transition from restrictive paper-based processes to more intelligent, automated systems. By removing the need for paper-based monitoring and reporting, MES systems can improve efficiency, provide meaningful business insights, eliminate room for error and enable the better utilization of resources. Data can be recorded and reported in real-time helping manufacturers to optimize their overall production process in single plants, as well as across global facilities.
This development comes at a time of wider technological advances within the manufacturing industry, namely Industry 4.0 which will see the end-to-end digitization of production and manufacturing processes. It will also produce more meaningful data across the supply chain that can help companies realize wider business benefits.
For example, real-time reporting can lead to issues being identified earlier on, helping to increase responsiveness and highlight opportunities for improvement. MES systems are becoming a critical component of the manufacturing process to support these developments, however they are also becoming more complex.
The systems are often connected to many other systems across different networks, creating connectivity challenges. As a result, a higher level of support and maintenance is needed to ensure the effectiveness of the MES technology and help companies make the most of their investment.
The increasing complexity of MES systems can present additional challenges to businesses, including security vulnerabilities which can lead to reputational issues if not managed appropriately. MES systems require regular patching to secure both systems and data from internal and external threats.
A coordinated approach that covers patch testing, release and deployment and that is based on planned ongoing activity rather than a knee jerk reaction to the latest security threat, can ensure that the risk is minimized and that a high level of security is maintained. This helps in the detection of attacks so that they can be stopped as soon as possible by system administrators.
In addition, one of the biggest challenges manufacturers will need to consider as they invest in new MES technology is ensuring that the data that is collected is accurate and stored securely, without impacting the overall operational efficiency of the business. Electronic data can allow for real-time visibility of information, which can help to streamline operations and support achieving regulatory compliance.
Implementing standardized processes to manage new data will not only ease the complexity of dealing with new developments within the pharmaceutical industry, such as a demand for faster turnaround of products, personalized medicine, and corporate policy changes, it will also help to identify issues and provide valuable insight earlier on in the production process, leading to faster decision-making and problem-solving.
The Importance of Considering the Long Term
Before implementing or upgrading MES technology, manufacturers need to consider the system, development, integration, staff development, and retention costs. However, what can often be overlooked during this phase is the long-term support costs during the MES lifecycle.
By considering this early on in the process, companies can plan effectively for the future, including where they can get the right support from; should the technology need updating or software issues occur. Replacing the system isn’t always the right answer, and can be a costly exercise. More often than not a simple software update and proper maintenance is all that is required.
An expert team of skilled engineers that can provide on-going support, remotely, can help companies get the most out of their investment in MES. A structured support system that manages the lifecycle of the system can help to extend the lifetime of the technology, minimizing inefficient operation and potential downtime.
Support models will differ for individual companies, with defining factors including the number of sites requiring management, the resources available, and the existing teams in place. For example, the requirements will vary for a small manufacturing facility compared to a large multi-site company where support systems will need to be replicated across sites.
A managed service approach, which involves using remote third-party resources, can help to manage the complexity of supporting multiple sites across different geographic regions. This strategy can also help fast- growing companies that may have the requirement to scale-up their operations, delivering both cost and time savings.
Additionally, a global, company-wide support model can assist with the sharing of resources and knowledge between sites. Site-specific issues with the MES system can be identified and any lessons learned can be communicated to prevent similar challenges at other sites. A standardized approach to MES implementation and maintenance can also help to improve and deliver corporate policy, which can streamline internal processes and save time.
MES technology is just one of the many technological advancements taking place in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. It offers companies the opportunity to improve efficiency and streamline processes, delivering a positive impact on the overall performance of the business. However, the increasing complexity associated with new intelligent systems is driving a need for well-considered support models.
To get the maximum ROI, companies need to consider the requirement for ongoing support and account for associated costs early in the project phase. By doing so, projects will be more cost-effective and deliver value for the long-term.
About the Author:
Paul Fay is senior MES service manager at Zenith Technologies, with responsibility for managing a major global MES managed service. Having worked in the pharmaceutical industry for more than 15 years, Fay’s experience includes drug discovery, manufacturing, packaging, and logistics.