Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR) - Part 4 - Wireless in Manufacturing

Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR) - Part 4 - Wireless in Manufacturing

 
By Bill Lydon - Editor, January 2011
 
This is the fourth article in a series that is the result of the annual Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR). The individual PAR group members have a wealth of practical knowledge and knowhow to share with other participants, truly learning from each other.
 
I had the privilege of attending the Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable as an observer this last November at Pfizer's Andover, Massachusetts biotech facility. The PAR was co-hosted by Jim LaBonty and James Galloway, both from Pfizer’s central engineering group. Over 30 automation lead engineers from various parts of the world attended the invitation-only, two-day event. In my opinion, this was likely the most knowledgeable group of automation professionals gathered in one place at any one time focused on discussing automation issues. Life Science companies represented in the PAR include Abbott, Alcon Labs, Allerga, Amgen, Bayer, Biogen Idec, BMS, Boehringer Ingelheim, Centocor, Cook Pharmica, Dow, Genentech, GenMab, Genzyme, GSK, Imclone, J&J, Eli Lilly, Lonza, Merck, NNE Pharmaplan, Novartis, Novo Nordisk, Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi-Aventis, Schering Plough, Talecris, and UniLife.
 
The PAR was founded about 15 years ago by Dave Adler and John Krenzke, both with Eli Lilly and Company at the time, as 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.   
 
This year’s PAR topics covered the following items:
 
  • Manufacturing Execution System Projects - Benchmarking
  • Control System Virtualization Approaches
  • Governance Organizational Structures
  • Software Development Environment & Configuration Management
  • Control System – Automation Lifecycle Management and Long Range Planning
  • Electronic Testing Tools & Validation
  • Wireless Networks
  • Disposable Technology and Automation Implications
  • Control Loop Operating Modes – Operator use of Auto & Manual modes relative to Safety
The structure of PAR is to discuss a topic and then attendees respond to 3 - 5 questions.
 
Wireless in Manufacturing
 
One PAR member started this discussion by noting that wireless, to them, means a wide range of technologies including 802.11 a,g,n which companies are using as an extension of wired Ethernet (ex. wireless peripherals such as bar code scanners and notebooks). Then there are wireless sensor networks which include instruments on wireless 802.15.4 such as ZigBee, WirelessHART, and ISA 100. RFID is another wireless technology that has not caught on nearly as much as people had expected. Standard and smart cell phones are also being used in plants for communications. However, users should think about the risk of putting information on wireless since it is inherently not as robust and there will be communications outages. There are a number of topologies that incorporate mesh technology, but most are difficult to maintain and manage because they can be confusing. If you use a mesh network you need to have a pretty good size installed base.
 
One major application example has been adding wireless devices to acquire data that had been logged manually in the past. They are using a device with a camera that views a gauge and sends data wirelessly. Another big application is temporary installations for diagnostics, many times using strap-on sensors. 
 
Mobile devices are growing in use, such as tablet PCs and iPads. We are also starting to see IP67-rated handheld devices with bar code readers, calibrators with a wireless link to the calibration database, and wireless interfaces for electronic batch records (S88). In some cases, they have roving operators that use industrial notebooks.
 
The linking of old lab equipment with serial outputs using serial Wi-Fi servers has proven to be an effective low cost solution.
 
They are working to achieve 100% Wi-Fi access throughout their plants.
 
Wireless sensor networks are springing up all over the place on an as needed basis. Many plants are encouraging their engineers to try things out to see how these technologies work. The payback using wireless is really big. For example, steam trap monitoring could have avoided a plugged steam trap about a year ago. The plug subsequently caused about a week of downtime plus repairing all the problems it caused. They are finding wireless is a very good conduit to get low hanging fruit that has high payback. “If we said no wireless could be applied unless it is approved beforehand, everyone would be scared to try it.”
 
Many have not standardized on any wireless network yet; we are trying a number of them with good success.
 
Comments from the PAR group
 
We use a hospital setup that is a rolling stand with a notebook on it and a large battery to provide all day operation.
 
In our company, Bluetooth, wireless keyboards, and mice are disabled on laptops due to security.
 
We did tour own Wi-Fi survey using freeware map for finding Wi-Fi coverage on a laptop and saved a great deal of money.
 
Rather than trying to implement a grand plan, wireless should be considered as just another tool to use when needed.
 
Wireless is being used on a lot of building management and HVAC control.
 
We are using RFID embedded in physical hoses for aiding validation.
 
We have a very conservative wireless policy - we just now have Wi-Fi for notebook computers.
 
We connected a weigh scale and printer by adding a Wi-Fi box with two serial ports. Previously, the printed simply printed out weight. Now, the weight is wirelessly sent to their MES system which associates it with the process data.  A drum and lot number is sent to the printer, providing a more complete label with a bar code.
 
The applications we found for wireless are easy to spot and have high payback.
 
We introduced our process engineers to wireless and they are quickly finding applications with high payback.
 
By working with IT, we used freeware software to walk around the plant to get a “heat map” of coverage to determine where we had dead spots.
 
My Observations
 
Wireless is being applied with high payback.
 
Standards are not having an impact on implementing solutions. This group is interesting in getting results.
 
Manufacturing Plants are getting up to 100% coverage of 802.11, so it is becoming a communications utility in many plants.
 
Summary
 
The Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable is a terrific event and I am sure attendees gained a number of ideas.  The next article covers the group’s thoughts on Automation Reinvestment & Disposable Technology.
 
Links to the other articles in this series: