Comprehensive monitoring of pharmaceutical production via OEE app

Juni 19th, 2017

Complex structures, high output and completely intertwined – that’s how some would characterize modern pharmaceutical and chemical production. Many companies have integrated production systems at their manufacturing sites, where one cog literally fits into another. This chain of production ranges from granulating compounds, for example, to making them into tablet form and packaging the finished articles. Generally, these systems are becoming increasingly faster and more flexible, causing production costs to fall in recent times. On the other hand, this also means that if the efficiency of one machine reduces even slightly, it can have an adverse effect in several instances. One aim of Industry 4.0 philosophy is therefore to establish and continuously monitor production sites. The Industry 4.0 specialist OEE app by symmedia illustrates how this works in practice. Together with the symmedia SP/1 portal, the app shows the real-time performance of individual machines or of the entire production process on your tablet.


symmedia OEE-App in pharmaceutical and chemical companies
Pharmaceutical and chemical companies can monitor their machines and, for example, check their availability with the symmedia SP/1 OEE app

Three factors influence the added value of a machine when using the Overall Equipment Effectiveness Index (OEE), developed in Japan during the 1960s: availability, performance and quality. Indeed, each machine is a changing system. Material wear and tear on the mechanical components or modified product requirements impact on performance – and the OEE factors are changing particularly quickly within the complex field of pharmaceutical production. Take the example of availability; whether or not a machine actually achieves its maximum output each day depends, among other things, on how quickly it can be modified for a new batch. Needless to say, this is also true for other industries. Indeed, the modification process in pharmaceutical production is particularly challenging as machines also need to be cleaned residue-free. This increases the period of inactivity. The same is true of maintenance. Servicing and inspecting machines is not a question of choice in the pharmaceutical field, but rather a mandatory requirement set out by the regulatory authorities. In other words, it takes place more often compared to other industries and consequently has a much greater impact on the OEE availability factor. Ultimately, you could go through almost all of the factors used to calculate the OEE index – from the real-time production speed, to the smooth handling of the product, to the issue of material losses, but in the end, it will always be the case that even perfectly balanced pharmaceutical production will be prone to fluctuating levels of performance.


Wireless” OEE surveillance

With that in mind, we have been working together with mechanical engineers for pharmaceutical machines and manufacturing sites to integrate and connect their machines with the aid of our comprehensive symmedia SP/1 portal”, states Bernd Bertram, Senior Consultant at symmedia. “Users will then benefit from a system, depending on configuration, able to carry out tasks ranging from secure remote maintenance, to maintenance and spare part management, to machine status monitoring.” In terms of practical use, this translates into extremely substantial advantages for large-scale pharmaceutical production. For example, the symmedia SP/1 Remote Service: If a problem occurs on a tablet press, the operator selects the service button on the monitor. A technician immediately reports in and checks the machine via remote access and may even be able to resolve the fault “wirelessly”.

Absolutely crucial to the OEE analysis of machines is the symmedia SP/1 monitoring software, which is also forms part of the portal. It processes all “raw data” in several steps, which, for example, come from the controlling of the machines or from various databases. The system automatically recognizes the “language” of the data source and converts it into a standard format. Subsequently, the data is combined, filtered in accordance with certain rules and analyzed using target-performance comparisons. This enables the machines to be continuously monitored, and also makes it possible to demonstrate performance over a long period of time using graphics, for example. Part of symmedia SP/1 monitoring, the Customer Cockpit always functions as a PC interface. “We are taking the next step forward with the OEE app, since production planers are no longer bound to their computer workstations”, explains Bernd Bertram. “They can detect any potential problems much faster using tablet computers.” OEE reporting is therefore optimized for display on mobile devices. Users will see easy-to-read color bar displays or clearly distinguishable areas with key figures. On that basis, they check individual machines and their parts or whole plants to give a summary view. Are there losses in availability because of set-up times that are too long, unusually low cycle times or even machine failures? In response to these questions, the app shows unambiguous target-performance comparisons.


Security above all else

The issue of “security” - especially for pharmaceutical and chemical production – is crucial in this context. Therefore, it is important to be aware that the OEE app only represents a “front-end solution”. The software merely displays the processed data and is not able to influence the machine in any way or even to control it remotely. Furthermore, if required, the app can be programmed so as to only allow access to sensitive databases within the bounds of the company premises. Last, but not least, the symmedia SP/1 data source is a real “Fort Knox”. The TÜV-certified (Technical Inspection Association) system is encrypted several times and protected against unauthorized access.


Overall, our technology is a major step towards an integrated Industry 4.0 production system for users”, summarizes Bernd Bertram. “We can equip individual machines or whole sites with symmedia SP/1 Monitoring on request. The software collects the data and interprets the results. The OEE app allows the production manager to keep on top of everything remotely. The production site becomes a completely connected system, thereby vastly increasing performance capability and efficiency, as errors are corrected directly.” 

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Vinzenz van Ketwich

Vinzenz van Ketwich
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