To upgrade or not to upgrade? In response to the rising cost pressure in the pharmaceutical industry, drug producers tend to opt for modernisation rather than new machinery purchases when machine parts become obsolete. Yet what if the original equipment manufacturer no longer offers these services for the machine concerned? Norbrook Laboratories found the answer in collaboration with Bosch Packaging Services, who implemented enhanced control and visualisation technology in several more than 17 year-old sterilisers.
With more than 40 years of experience in farm animal, pet and equine healthcare, family-run Norbrook Laboratories have developed and registered more than 800 products including food supplements, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and anaesthetics. One product in the company’s portfolio is Closamectin, a medicine that has revolutionised parasite treatment in large animals. Based in Newry, Northern Ireland, Norbrook has manufacturing facilities on four continents and markets its products in 120 countries around the globe.
At its Newry site, Norbrook runs eight sterile manufacturing lines with sterilisers from different manufacturers to ensure aseptic filling operations and terminal sterilisation of a range of products. A further stand-alone hot water shower steriliser is employed for terminal sterilisation only. The majority of the machines are in operation 24/7. After nearly 20 years of service, the control system components of three sterilisers including all mechanical parts needed to be renewed. Norbrook had to choose between upgrading the sterilisers’ control systems with state-of-the-art technology or settling for entirely new equipment. Since all sterilisers were still in perfectly good condition, it was an easy decision.
“We elected to revamp the system controls and visualisation technology to maintain robust performance of all three sterilisers and secure the high capacity of our manufacturing lines”, Susan O’Neill, Electronics Manager/Engineering Project Manager at Norbrook, reports. A further goal consisted in standardising the equipment in order to reduce the number of spare parts and minimise operator training. However, the required parts were no longer available, and the original equipment manufacturer did not provide the services to upgrade this specific equipment. A new partner capable of upgrading third-party machinery needed to be found.
Equipment simulation in Austria
“Given our successful cooperation with Bosch in another project, we opted for Bosch Packaging Services as our preferred upgrade partner. We also knew they had extensive experience of modernising third-party equipment”, O’Neill explains. Together with the sterilisation experts from Bosch’s Austrian subsidiary Schoeller-Bleckmann Medizintechnik (SBM), Bosch Packaging Services initiated a twelve-month project covering everything from evaluations of existing equipment through the installation and programming of the new control systems to training for Norbrook’s staff at customised workshops.
Prior to implementing the new controls and touch panels in Newry, Bosch thoroughly evaluated the sterilisers’ mechanical and electrical components on-site. This gave the team a precise understanding of Norbrook’s technical requirements. At the SBM plant in Ternitz, Austria, Bosch set up a steriliser with the latest control and visualisation technology for testing purposes. Norbrook was able to gain a valuable first impression of the new technology’s look and feel. “Apart from assessing the functionalities of the new components, we also had an opportunity to voice specific requirements, which Bosch successfully implemented”, O’Neill adds. Following testing and documentation, the new control and visualisation systems were shipped to Ireland and installed in Newry without a hitch.
Increased precision and safety
The new equipment components include a Siemens S7 PLC control system and a Siemens IPC 477D Touch Panel. This novel, state-of-the-art technology delivers a higher level of precision during sterilising operations. The touch panel is easy to use and allows all critical process parameters to be accurately monitored. Operators can set up precise batch protocols and trace back recipe changes. This comprehensive documentation makes it more straightforward to prevent or remedy production errors. Customised features such as an animated piping and instrumentation diagram ensure the systems meet Norbrook’s control requirements and permit reliable and safe sterilising operations.
The upgraded components further support smooth machine setups and operation, as they significantly simplify calibration and standardise operation procedures across different manufacturing lines. In case of a system failure, operators can react quickly thanks to the clearly structured service menu, which considerably facilitates troubleshooting and provides fast turnaround on breakdowns. The systems’ high level of standardisation enabled Norbrook to cut down on its critical spare parts inventory. Operator and maintenance training was also considerably reduced, as operators who have been trained on one of the upgraded sterilisers can operate any of the others too.
More upgrades planned
The smooth implementation paid off for both project partners: Norbrook was able to keep and upgrade the equipment they had been satisfied with for so many years. As a result, the company is keen to continue the cooperation with Bosch. The animal health expert recently ordered its first new Bosch steriliser. With the help of the service experts and maintenance training sessions, Norbrook is also planning to upgrade seven additional sterilisers across the entire company.
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