The current economic climate, combined with increasing regulations has placed pharmaceutical manufacturers in the difficult position of having to reduce waste, improve processes, and increase productivity. Although lean manufacturing can absolutely be the answer, some companies have found lean manufacturing implementation to be an uphill battle. That is not to say, however, that there have not been some dramatic success stories.

Two Major Obstacles for Lean Manufacturing Implementation

The first obstacle is the perception that the use of lean manufacturing solutions is, at best, nothing more than a trend and, at worst, a fleeting fad. It is often viewed as nothing more than a repackaging of fundamental industrial engineering principles dressed up in new clothes, and touted in new terms to appeal to a new industry. Lean manufacturing is sometimes seen in the pharmaceutical industry as a collection of techniques, effective in the auto industry, which some folks are now trying to foist on an utterly different industry.

What this means, then, is that perceptions have to be changed.

The second, and related, major obstacle involves gaining management and employee buy-in. For example, decreasing batch size is easy to envision and not all that difficult to effect in most industries. But in pharmaceutical manufacturing, altering batch size also involves reducing the size of the blend which, in turn, runs into renewed testing and several layers of approval. There will, of course, be resistance to this.

And then there are the production employees who are accustomed to operating on the “push” model. Even though the “pull” model of lean manufacturing eliminates many bottlenecks, employees often balk at implementing it because they will have to focus on other activities once a task or batch has been optimally completed.

What’s needed is a means whereby both management and employees will get on board and buy into the lean manufacturing process.

A Success Story in Pharmaceutical Lean Manufacturing Implementation

During the past few years, Baxter Healthcare’s Marion, NC, plant has worked hard to put in place an effective and productive lean manufacturing system. Not all management members and line operators were in favor of the proposed changes in the beginning but, over time, perceptions were changed, people bought in, and remarkable results were achieved:

· A 74% improvement of cycle time for production

· A 175% increase in the number of daily direct ship loads due to productivity improvements

· A 50% reduction per month of solution container scrap on the fill line

· A 33% reduction of in-process inventory between filling and sterilization, and 62% between sterilization and packaging

· A reduction in the number of product carriers needed of approximately 35%

Some of the more important ingredients that went into to the mix to achieve these results were:

· Fostering linkage and visibility from upstream operations to downstream operations so that groups in the plant no longer operated in discrete departments

· Utilizing a top-down approach, value stream maps, training manuals produced in-house, and training exercises

· Striving for simplicity and efficiency throughout the process

Additionally, other benefits were realized beyond reduced waste and improved productivity – benefits such as improved outlook along the value stream, enhanced ability of the entire team to see how the value stream is flowing, anticipate bottlenecks, and gain a better understanding within departments of how their performance affects the performance of other downstream departments. These secondary benefits, although less tangible and quantifiable are perhaps, ultimately, more valuable.

To learn more about how lean manufacturing strategies can streamline your business and improve your bottom line, visit Smart Lean Manufacturing .