The majority of pharmaceutical manufacturers who have adopted the lean manufacturing model are not satisfied with their results according to a new survey, raising questions about the efficacy of a system popular in the automotive and hi-tech industries.
The survey of more than 1,500 pharmaceutical manufacturers, conducted by solutions specialist Invistics, showed that, while more than half of the respondents said their companies have implemented Lean, Six Sigma or Operational Excellence, less than half of those lean initiatives have produced satisfactory results.
A lean manufacturing system is one that meets high throughput or service demands and focuses on the reduction of seven "wastes;" over-production, waiting time, transportation, processing, inventory, motion and scrap.
Yet the fundamental complexities of the pharmaceutical manufacturing process raise challenges not found in simple high-volume manufacturing plants that can dedicate production equipment to specific product lines, such as automobiles and computers.
Indeed, in a recent report, AMR Analyst Colin Masson wrote: "The process industry lags in the adoption of lean practices across the board primarily because the lean techniques popularised by the Toyota Production System (TPS) can be difficult to implement in the shared equipment, high product mix, and highly volatile demand scenarios they face."
Still Invistics insists lean manufacturing can work in the drug industry given the right implementation, so it offers its methodology and software to extend traditional lean manufacturing via next generation flow techniques, like Constant Work in Process (CONWIP), to help plant managers identify and control variability in products, processes and demand by pinpointing immediate problems and generating scenarios for continuous improvement.
The company has developed MachSix, a software that enables pharmaceutical makers to hit increasingly aggressive inventory and cycle time targets while achieving maximum throughput and extremely high service levels.
"Many companies in industries that traditionally haven't applied Lean and Six Sigma are now trying to benefit from these techniques and they are learning that it is not as straightforward as they expected it to be," said Invistics CEO Scott Geller.
"The good news is that new approaches helping to ensure sustained success are emerging, along with software solutions that apply lean principles to the reality of shared equipment and product proliferation found in complex batch processes and packaging options."
Geller pointed to Bristol-Myers Squibb's manufacturing facilities that apply lean methodologies, deploy Invistics MachSix software and focus on team building.
Cycle times there were slashed by 80 per cent, Work-In-Progress (WIP) was reduced by 75 per cent, inventory turns increased fivefold, employee productivity doubled since the 1990s, and first-pass quality rose to 95 per cent in the last three years despite a significant increase in product variability.
Invistics has developed a white paper to help process manufacturing executives and plant managers improve performance and profit margins by applying lean techniques modified for complex, highly variable and asset-intensive environments - this is available online here .