KEEPING UP WITH DEMAND
At plant level, capacity will have to be flexible not just to changing product variety but also demand levels. Compared to
other industries, biopharmaceutical supply chains have been stuffed with inventory that effectively decouples manufacturing
supply from customer demand. This makes the job of running the plant easier because the plant manager can run a level load.
This luxury is no longer affordable, and plant managers will have to flex plant load to more closely synchronize with supply-chain
demand patterns. Workers and their shift routines will need to become more flexible and responsive. Business processes like
materials management will need to be more agile, too. At network level, particularly larger companies that have absorbed other
companies and comprise multiple legacy facilities, adaptability to reconfigure networks has become an ongoing and continuous
activity for senior management. Technology transfer processes are not always fit for purpose in this new reality and will
often need to be streamlined. Facilities will have to be designed and operated on the assumption that they will change use
If business growth hinges on rapid facility deployment for the reasons of capital expenditure deferral and risk mitigation
in mature markets, then it also hinges on an additional set of reasons in emerged and emerging markets. Security and risk
extend to intellectual property (IP) protection, workforce turnover, and political volatility. By swiftly setting up and,
if necessary, removing facilities, risk can be minimized. A new generation of modular units partially completed away from
site are becoming available.
Flexibility can place new requirements on tactical, operational, and strategic thinking and affect every function in the business.
Taking on board all of these concepts can be daunting and, at worst, counterproductive. Caution should be exercised when deciding
what flexibility gives the most leverage for the goals of the business. Senior managers should establish boundaries for beneficial
flexibility and rule out where further levels of flexibility will produce diminishing returns. Underpinning built-in flexibility
is the need to have a corporate mindset that responds quickly to any challenge placed on the business. It is not too difficult
to see how proposed flexible approaches can be analyzed for cost benefit and applied to the known unknowns, but what about
the unknown unknowns? Flexibility to cover every possible eventuality would be unlikely to make sense.
Diverse mixes of capacity are emerging in the industry even within a given corporations network. Existing large-scale stainless
steel plants, medium-volume launch facilities, and low-volume disposable units, complimented by specialized emerging market
service units are all in evidence.
Other intelligent thinkers are developing enterprise-wide philosophies, like the well-known Toyota Production System to guide
exactly how facilities, process technologies, human performance systems, and supply-chain planning methodologies come together
in concert to deliver the right level of flexibility. By this route, the flexible biomanufacturing system will perhaps deliver
transformative change that many in the industry are hoping to witness.
Simon Chalk is director of the BioPhorum Operations Group, firstname.lastname@example.org
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