Preactor provides the right scheduling medicine for Delta Biotechnology

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Delta Biotechnology Limited was founded in Nottingham in 1984 as a pioneer business, based on yeast technology, in protein engineering and the production of biopharmaceuticals. The company has a proven track record in working with collaborative partners in the development and manufacture of new therapies. Delta has ongoing development collaborations with a number of leading global pharmaceutical companies, maintaining partnerships in the US, Europe and Japan. It has demonstrable success in supporting out-licensing and technology transfer in, amongst others, therapeutic recombinant proteins; vaccines (both animal and human); fusion proteins; and medical device applications. Delta offers a breadth and depth of expertise to its biotechnology and pharmaceutical partners, from pre-clinical research to world-class, large-scale fermentation-based manufacturing with comprehensive regulatory support. Recently, Delta secured the prestigious Queens Award for Enterprise for its business performance based on increased export earnings mainly for Recombumin (recombinant human albumin), a fully synthetic version of the plasma-derived protein. For a number of years, the company had used a basic scheduling methodology complemented by a commonly used project management software package dating back to the early 90s. Back in 2000 the company decided to radically overhaul its scheduling infrastructure. This is when Delta first made contact with Preactor and systems integrator Resource Management Systems (RMS).

Historic problems
Project Manager Mark Wilson (pictured right) provided the background. We had developed a simple production schedule for basic tasks involving a manufacturing batch comprising between 100 and 200 jobs. To use this schedule on a day-to-day basis was a simple process and worked fairly well. However, scheduling was pretty much limited to our core manufacturing shift teams which work on a 24/7 operation. What we really wanted was to integrate other functions, namely the dispensary staff, the final product handling staff, the engineering staff, and the quality control staff into some aspects of our scheduling IT routine. For us, the package we were using had limitations in its capacity to deal with other groups working on various shift rotas. In addition we wanted to plan long-term to look as much as a year ahead. At this point, the program became impossibly large and tended to crash a great deal.

In the late 1990s, Wilson and his team developed a system of nested projects, so Delta could schedule one batch after another. This proved to be a worthwhile exercise because it focused our minds on how we would want our ideal IT scheduling system to be, which we subsequently put into practice when we sourced Preactor APS and began its customisation with RMS. However, because we were using, this nesting practice it stretched the capacity of the PC, which made it rather slow to open and close.

The solution
The decision was therefore taken to look for a software package that could deal effectively with higher levels of scheduling complexity, something with a greater capacity and faster operating speed. We had heard favourable things about Preactor APS and attended a demonstration at a show at the NEC in Birmingham back in 2000, said Wilson. We then looked for alternatives, but frankly we couldnt find any other product that could match Preactors flexibility. The APS package was reasonably priced, and it could clearly do everything we wanted our previous package to do, with fewer glitches and a quicker start-up time. Delta sourced Preactor APS via RMS in 2000. The company purchased a single Preactor APS licence. The system is normally kept open by the shift supervisor who can update throughout the day as required. The company also has three Preactor viewer licences.

Implementation and customisation
Delta does not employ a full-time production scheduler. Scheduling responsibilities are shared between Wilson, the Production Manager and the shift supervisors who work a 24/7 rota. As regards implementation, Delta was hoping to conduct most of the work, including system customisation, in-house, supported by RMS staff. In practice, it also called on the services of a consultant from Foster Wheeler Energy Limited (FWEL) for around three weeks. This was mainly a resource issue, said Wilson. At this time my services were largely focused elsewhere and I simply couldnt dedicate as much time as I would have liked to discuss customisation issues with RMS. In the early stages, the FWEL scheduling and IT specialist did quite a bit of work with RMS to customise the software to our specific requirements. For example, one of the biggest benefits of our bespoke version of Preactor APS is how, if we fail to meet any specified time criteria regarding any particular job, a box appears on the screen and points out which time frame was not achieved and by how long it was missed. Most of the customisation was done by RMS at its headquarters in Mexborough, South Yorkshire. However, RMS staff also visited Delta on many occasions, particularly when Wilson wished to explain aspects of further bespoke work that Delta wanted to implement. From time to time its easier to explain things face to face, and by drawings, rather than trying to explain things via email, said Wilson. This method has worked very well, and RMS staff have been very helpful and easy to work with throughout.

Go live
The system went live in 2002. However, the customisation remains an ongoing process as Delta becomes aware of additional enhancements that could be made. As we think of better ways to use the system we suggest changes to RMS, so it is very much a rolling evolution with Preactor APS, said Wilson. We started with the concept that we wouldnt cover anything outside the core manufacturing routines managed by our shift teams. To do this we needed the ability to replicate a standard production batch a number of times. This can involve anything from 200 to 500 tasks, depending on exactly how the batch is being manufactured. So we created a database system where we could produce what we call a phase of operation. In reality it doesnt comprise frameworks for single batches, but overlaps one batch into another. And we created a library of phases, which initially and fairly simplistically we could stitch together as a beginning, an end and many middles, on the theory that all middles would be identical. We got this system up and running, and very quickly learned one or two lessons about the difference between Preactor and our Project Management software. Preactor APS could think and basically put things where we told it to. The biggest asset of Preactor APS is that, having built the structure it will carry out the operation of working out the optimum way of getting the jobs done. Whereas all we could do with the Project Management system was move time, forwards or backwards. Wilson cited another advantage of Preactor APS as its ability to use secondary constraints to avoid scheduling use of the same piece of equipment simultaneously. This means we can move a single job and leave Preactor APS to re-arrange the rest of the schedule, he explained. On our package, if you moved a single job you had to look at everything that clashed and move those jobs, then look at everything again. Wilson also realised that Delta rarely had job runs that were totally identical. To keep things simple, our Preactor system has 20 working slots for each manufacturing campaign. And into these slots we can put the details of any manufacturing phase we wish.

Benefits
Since implementation of Preactor APS, Delta has recognised a number of key benefits. Its a great visual tool, said Wilson. And its so quick that I can make changes to the schedule bit by bit within seconds rather than waiting until I had, say, ten changes to the schedule then load the lot at once. Wilson also recognises the benefits of Preactors What if scenarios. Its very convenient to be able to come up with a theoretical schedule and check its effectiveness without actually saving the data as a real schedule. In addition, Wilson drew attention to Preactors ease of backup. The fact that we can back up our data on Preactor within around two minutes means there is little excuse not to regularly go through the process at least once a week.

The future
Over the next two years, Wilson plans to include engineering shut-down scheduling within Preactor. At the moment the Engineering Department schedules its maintenance shut-downs independently. However, our Engineering department currently lacks the ability to say this is the existing schedule, now I want to change it or add things to it. At the moment, Engineering builds a campaign and then puts it on the planning board. Then if the department is half way through and wants to re-build, it either loses the history or has to put the history on using the change date function in, then move it around to get it in about the right place. Once Engineering is brought on stream with Preactor we wont have such problems and will have a fully integrated scheduling tool for manufacturing operations.

Mike Novels, Managing Director of Preactor, said of the implementation: I was particularly struck how the system has evolved over a period of time and how the footprint of Preactor has gradually expanded to cover a much wider part of the business. Its a very impressive application.

Don Dyas of RMS, added: The Delta Biotech story is a perfect example of how Preactor can evolve in line with the customers individual requirements. Major benefits have already been realised by Delta Biotech since utilising Preactor. These benefits have more than justified the original decision to choose the software solution. Significantly though, Mark and his team are aware that further improvement is always possible, and as such they will no doubt continue to consult RMS regarding further enhancements as required.

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