Eli Lilly Virtualizes HMI Systems to Boost Workforce Productivity

Oct. 10, 2017
How HMI migration gave this 24/7 biopharmaceutical manufacturer remote access and drastically reduced time to HMI workstation recovery

The process of converting biological agents into pharmaceuticals is one of the most sophisticated and stringent manufacturing processes. Consider: an aspirin molecule contains 21 atoms. A biopharmaceutical molecule could consist of anywhere from 2,000 to 25,000 atoms.

Consistently reproducing these complex compounds from their origin in a bioreactor to their packaging for patients requires both operational precision and strict quality control.

Eli Lilly is one of the top biopharmaceutical developers in the world. Its Lilly-Branchburg plant is primarily dedicated to manufacturing advanced therapies for treating cancer. It also produces biopharmaceuticals that are undergoing clinical trials.

Eli Lilly standardized on a control and information platform from Rockwell Automation. Improved lifecycle management reduced time to HMI recovery, and remote visibility improved users’ workflows.

These drugs are processed in two “clean” manufacturing suites, where workers must wear protective suits to avoid contamination. Inside these suites are the human machine interface (HMI) systems that allow operators to see the status of each batch, and ensure the process is running smoothly and consistently.

The Lilly-Branchburg plant runs 24/7. This around-the-clock schedule offers few opportunities for equipment upgrades, and even the shortest downtime comes at a cost to production.

With the HMIs’ operating system (OS) nearing the end of its life, plant managers took the opportunity to assess how people interacted with the manufacturing process. Feedback from operators, engineers and others who had used the existing HMIs to gain visibility into the production process was consistent - accessing the HMIs required too much time and effort.

“Access to the HMIs was confined to the clean area, resulting in production lulls,” said Mihir Shah, director of automation and electrical engineering at Eli Lilly. “Imagine you’re a manufacturing supervisor checking on the production run. Anytime you’d want to check on production, you’d have to enter the manufacturing suite and put on a protective suit.”

Not only was this time consuming, it also complicated troubleshooting. An issue in the manufacturing suite, for instance, might require an instrument to be recalibrated. An operator had to enter the clean area and identify the issue before knowing who could fix it. In the pharmaceuticals industry, instruments also must be routinely calibrated every six months to verify that parameters on the HMI system are represented on the instrument.

If one of the thick-client computers in one of the suites went down, recovery took anywhere from four to eight hours. Re-establishing a connection with the HMI system required workers to gown up for the production area, apply any required OS patches, check the anti-virus software, and various additional steps that interrupted normal production.

Once Eli Lilly decided to modernize its HMI system, it needed to set goals for the upgrade and select the technology for the optimal solution. Deployment also needed to fit within the production schedule of each suite and the availability of different teams. Management established a three-phased rollout plan that could best fit the update into its schedule.

“The project had three major goals: remote visibility, improved lifecycle management for the equipment and an addition of robust data collection,” Shah explained. “Within eight months, we had done our homework and knew what technology was available to help us reach those goals.”

Eli Lilly chose the FactoryTalk software suite from Rockwell Automation to provide its visibility and data-management solutions, paired with Allen-Bradley ControlLogix controllers. A seamless, system-wide data flow was secured with integrated operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT).

FactoryTalk View Site Edition (SE) software with VMware View provided access to the HMI system from outside of the clean area. Users on the process and corporate network now can view production parameters and perform troubleshooting from anywhere.

A virtualized, thin-client architecture improves lifecycle management for the equipment, especially during future system updates and HMI client recovery. Dedicating server space for each production area means changes to one suite will not affect another.

“The virtualized HMI system removed the pain from recovery. If a thin-client goes down for any reason, a new client can be almost automatically connected using an IP address,” Shah said. “Even if the server goes down, we have a redundant system. In less than a second, the secondary server will activate.”

FactoryTalk Historian applications secure the collection of key data at the machine level, which then flows up to a site-level server. If a piece of equipment is connected to the system, this historian captures a constant, rolling window of data. Eli Lilly consistently maintains this information in case of a network or server failure.

With workers now untethered from workstations, production lulls have been eliminated.

“When a plant runs 24/7, workforce efficiency is essential,” Shah said. “Access extended outside of the suite frees people to focus on other responsibilities.”

Productivity improvements in the Lilly-Branchburg plant included easier instrument calibration. What once required two people is now accomplished by an individual with a mobile HMI client at the instrument. Now a supervisor can also remotely check the status of a production run to see if it’s on time and if other teams have begun the necessary steps.

Remote access to the historian infrastructure has been a boon to the manufacturing technology group, which is responsible for analyzing production data. Comparing a current batch against the expected standard helps determine whether a process is running properly and provides the opportunity to test the process within changing parameters.
It once took four to eight hours to recover an HMI workstation. That time has been collapsed to five minutes or less.

Now that Eli Lilly is familiar with the new visualization and historian architecture, the company expects a 70 percent reduction in development and deployment time when the second suite and a common utility area are modernized.

(The results mentioned above are specific to Eli Lilly’s use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.)

About the Author

Chirayu Shah | Visualization and Information Software Marketing Manager