Upgrading a Biotech Company’s Outdated Controls Platform

An American biotechnology company knew their legacy control systems were approaching end-of-life, making an upgrade essential for their site in California. E Tech Group provided several control system upgrades to their automated systems.

The Project: Resurrect an End-of-Life Control System

An American biotechnology company knew the truth – their vintage control systems were approaching end-of-life, making an upgrade essential for their site in California. Our client was grappling with key questions such as:

  • Should we continue to perform piecemeal upgrades to our automated systems as needed?
  • Is there a more strategic approach that will allow our control systems to meet current and future business needs?
  • Can we do a custom control system upgrade that spans the entire facility in a cost-effective way and limit disruption of our manufacturing?
  • How do we make sure stakeholders throughout the organization understand the risks of maintaining the current control systems as is?
  • How can we ensure stakeholders see the value in a building-wide control system upgrade and integration?
  • Will we need to switch to a different controls platform? If so, which one is the best fit for our automated processes?

The Challenge: Find the Right Teammates for the Controls Upgrade

The company recognized the issues they had with their aging systems, their own limited resources to dedicate to this evaluation, and the one thing they themselves could not do: have an outsider’s perspective with an industry-wide viewpoint.

The client made the decision to bring in that outsider perspective and partnered with E Tech Group for their controls platform retrofit. Our team of automation engineers brought with them 30+ years of biopharma experience, as well as knowledge of automation platforms and biotechnology systems. For a project of this importance, creating a strong partnership between client and consultant was crucial.

Our team included seasoned engineers who have experienced large-scale control system platform selection. We’ve also experienced conversion projects as owners and supported similar decisions for other biopharma clients as consultants. This allowed us to bring unique points of view to the project scope, coming in with an understanding of the specific needs of biotech automation.

The Solution: An Organized & Communicative Approach

E Tech Group and the client’s team went through a process of requirements definition and user group meetings with the company’s current and future site and global needs in mind. E Tech Group supported workshops with all of their stakeholders:

  • Automation, Environmental Health & Safety
  • Facilities/Maintenance
  • Instrumentation
  • IT
  • Production/Manufacturing
  • Process Engineering/Development
  • Procurement/Finance
  • Quality

To ensure the facility-wide control system improvements provided our client with the resources and ROI to continue to grow, our automation team brought several leading control system supply partners into the discussion.

The E Tech Group team challenged the biotechnology company to think beyond basic requirements from a technical and business perspective. Engaging the team together in workshops enabled cross-functional groups to learn about how others within the client’s company would be using the system. Our team was uniquely positioned to objectively facilitate an effective conversation and align their various perspectives through industry knowledge and expertise.

The Results: Collaboration Optimizes Project Design & Progress

At the conclusion of the process, multiple control system platform solutions were evaluated against the newly defined requirements – the team considered PLC/HMI and DCS-based systems and single-vendor/multi-vendor PLC/HMI platform options. E Tech Group worked with the internal stakeholders at the company to objectively evaluate the options and assess how the different platforms could best support the business needs.

In collaboration with our client, E Tech Group supported the development of a decision matrix to quantify the analysis of the different platforms. Additionally, we worked closely with the decision analysis team to develop financial and statistical models to help them determine the best option from a technical, financial and risk perspective.

Through this process, the stakeholders reached a unanimous decision on the future platform for the site.  The client, E Tech Group and the control platform vendor continued to collaborate to develop the long-term roadmap to support the upgrade/conversion of the site to the new platform. The updated control system allows the client to optimize current operations as well as lay the ground work for them to reach future goals and industry benchmarks.