Management's View of Automation – Focus of Improvements

  • March 11, 2013
  • Feature

Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR) 2012 - Part 3

By Bill Lydon, Editor

This is the third article in a series that are the result of the annual Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR). I attended the Roundtable in November 2012, hosted by AbbVie, which at the time, was part of Abbott in North Chicago, Illinois. Lead automation engineers from pharmaceutical companies all around the world participated. This group of engineers has a wealth of practical knowledge and knowhow and is willing to share with other participants - truly learning from each other. This is the most knowledgeable group of automation professionals gathered in one place at any one time to discuss automation issues. A range of companies participated including AbbVie, Amgen, Biogen Idec, BMS, Genentech, Genzyme, GSK, Eli Lilly, NNE Pharmaplan, Novo Nordisk, and Pfizer.

About PAR

PAR was founded about 15 years ago by Dave Adler and John Krenzke, both with Eli Lilly and Company. At the time, the purpose of the roundtable was to provide a means of benchmarking and sharing best practices for automation groups among peer pharmaceutical companies. The group specifically does not discuss confidential or proprietary information, cost or price of products, price or other terms of supply contracts, plans to do business or not do business with specific suppliers, contractors, or other companies.


Prior to the meeting, PAR members asked colleagues at their companies to complete surveys about Management’s View of Automation. At the meeting, Dave Adler presented the results of this year’s PAR survey. These are my notes on his presentation and comments from participants:

Automation Contribution

56% of management has the opinion that automation’s contribution to meeting operational goals is on par with other functions, 15% said more than other functions, and 29% said less than other functions.

Automation Focus

The question was asked, “What should the automation discipline focus on in the next 5-10 years?” Below is a breakdown of the percent of responses for each improvement category.

  • Reducing automation costs - 18.4%
  • Linkage to MES systems & fully integrated to IT - 17.1%
  • Efficiency of operations/manufacturing - 11.8%
  • Technical capability of automation professionals -10.5%
  • Simplify operator access to information - 9.2%
  • Consistency & control - 9.2%
  • Improving CSV (Computer System Validation) & reducing implementation time - 4.0%
  • Robotics & reducing manual operations - 4.0%

These were additional specific comments from survey participants regarding improvement areas:

  • In general there is a need to develop more cost effective automation solutions (project delivery & qualification) and life cycle management.
  • Manufacturing Execution/Electronic Batch Records integration into the manufacturing arena.
  • For my site, we need to develop stronger technical capabilities within the automation group.
  • Enabling floor operators to visualize performance of their lines.
  • Focus on exploring innovative, advance process control such as using the real-time data from multiple sources to make smart decisions.
  • Reducing non-value-adding documentation.
  • Eliminate manual interventions.

Automation - Pharmaceutical Solids & Packaging

Broken out as a separate group, 67% percent of solids and packaging operations management thought the level of automation is too low and 33% thought it is appropriate. This is based on an analysis of responses from solids and packaging operations management only on what the automation technology focus should be in the next 5-10 years.

Areas of improvement include:

  • Simplify users and technical team interactions with systems and controls
  • Enabling floor operators to visualize performance of their lines.
  • Increasing the knowledge base quality by design, mobility, and wireless.
  • Eliminate manual interventions.
  • Further eliminate manual interventions.
  • Integration with other systems, etc. to support business goals.
  • Integration with other business systems such as SAP, Lab data acquisition systems, data warehouses, electronic batch records, etc.

Thoughts & Observations

The discussions about management perceptions had these common threads:

  • Automation people need to more clearly and simply communicate the value of automation. People attracted to automation are not typically the best communicators. This could be an area for more education.
  • Money spent on upgrading old technology many times does not add value but avoids future downtime.
  • In some organizations, automation is being treated as a maintenance function to keep existing systems running rather than proactively looking for improvements.

This information and these discussions lead to understanding these issues and helps organizations thoughtfully consider better ways of accomplishing goals.

Other Articles in this PAR Series:

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