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Manufacturing’s New Golden Age: Are you Ready?

Buoyed by technological advances, American manufacturing is quietly staging a resurgence. Here’s how three companies are making the most of new capabilities.

Where this contact occurred was difficult to pinpoint. Farm fields may have a rogue barley plant growing amid rows of oats because of strong winds blowing seeds from another
field. Farm equipment like trucks, grain siloes and railcars may have residue of non-gluten grains that adulterate shipments of oats. “Even though the oat crop started off pure and gluten-free, by the time the grain comes to the factory to turn into Cheerios, it may not meet the FDA gluten-free requirements,” Wetzel says.

The importance of the Cheerios brand to General Mills, insofar as its naturally gluten-free composition, elevated the need to solve the foreign grain problem. Filtering out the
non-gluten grains at the factory was too expensive, as barley looks a lot like oats. Much of the oat grains were lost through this procedure. The answer was to improve this process by combining today’s information technology and grain separation methodologies.

By connecting the grain supply chain to achieve visibility, every step of the grain conversion process can be controlled and optimized to ensure the integrity of gluten-free. “We’ve connected the farming co-ops and the grain elevators and all the other supply networks to track the genealogy of the oats as they traverse through the system,” says Wetzel.

Leveraging cloud-based information technology and a Smart Manufacturing platform, General Mills gained visibility from the field through the point of the product becoming Cheerios. “We have procedures in place to measure the amount of gluten and remove the source to ensure gluten-free perfection,” Wetzel says. Gluten-free Cheerios are now sold across the world.

Pfizer: Tackling Transparency
Like General Mills, Pfizer has long been engaged in increasing its productivity by enhancing visibility into its supply network. Five years ago the $48.9 billion pharma company
developed a master plan to shift from isolated operations and plants to an integrated, end-to-end, transparent value chain leveraging Smart Manufacturing processes across the product lifecycle.

This “audacious plan,” says Alton Johnson, vice president, global technology services, is reaping an increasing harvest of innovative and efficient production concepts at reduced cost.

Among these bold initiatives is a novel medicine factory Pfizer calls PCMM (Portable Continuous Modular Miniature). “While we have long pursued advanced manufacturing and
continuous processing capabilities, we had relied solely on fixed brick-and-mortar assets to make our products,” explains Johnson.

That was fine until the need arose to produce medicines for patients in a geographic region proximate to where they are located, such as gene-sequencing medicines derived from a patient’s cells. “To serve these patients, many with rare diseases and cancers, manufacturing facilities need to be closer to the point of use,” Johnson says.


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