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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.

That’s where the modular plants come in. Unlike a traditional brick-and-mortar factory, the small, portable, manufacturing units can be deployed anywhere in the world and quickly assembled to meet local patient or business needs. Encased within each mobile manufacturing unit is real-time process monitoring. Other advanced manufacturing innovations in the PCMMs include process analytical technology (PAT), a mechanism to design, analyze and control pharmaceutical manufacturing processes to ensure critical quality attributes, and predictive closed-loop controls integrated across the manufacturing process to decrease the time it takes to make a tablet from days or weeks to minutes.

At the same time, by developing both clinical and commercial processes in the same PCMM unit, Pfizer cut the time normally required to scale-up processes, while eliminating many process, quality and compliance risks.

Aside from the business benefits, the PCMMs present enormous societal value. “If we have an early signal that a new cancer medicine may be effective and can move the product through clinical trials quickly, we need the infrastructure and quality systems to manufacture the medicine just as fast,” Johnson says.

The first products developed using PCMM technologies are expected to be available commercially within the next year and one-half.

Arconic: Pinpointing Problems
Another company connecting machines and people across its manufacturing value chain is Arconic, a global manufacturing, technology and engineering business formed when Alcoa split into two publicly traded companies last year. Key customers include the aerospace industry, which has increased its use of aluminum in airplane construction. Boeing’s new 777x aircraft, for instance, has an aluminum fuselage and a ladder-like internal structure of aluminum ribs that connect the front and rear spars. Such advanced products require delivering on extraordinarily precise dimensions, tolerances, durability and other desired properties, while also meeting the industry’s exacting timetables.

Arconic is leveraging Big Data and advanced control and predictive modeling techniques to improve its processes. It achieves this by embedding Internet-enabled sensors in the production centers across its downstream operations, which then connect and communicate with each other. The effort is already paying off.

“We had a production center in one of our facilities that was the main bottleneck to meet increasing demands,” says Haresh Malkani, senior manager, manufacturing intelligence
and automation technologies at the company. “Thanks to our manufacturing intelligence system, we were able to access and visualize information from this production center in real time to discern the problem and fix it.”

A key contributor to the problem was an undesirable dimensional attribute that constrained manufacturing throughput. “We used a vision-based system to quantify the dimensional attributes, combined with a physics-based predictive model to develop optimized operating [instructions],” explains Malkani. “We then deploy the solution in an adaptive control loop to improve the dimensional performance and ultimate throughput.”


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