Microbial screening systems help plants become financially fit

Cindy Lieberman, Celsis International

Optimizing the fitness of a manufacturing facility requires a multi-faceted approach, using in combination the three levers of lowering operating expenses, increasing throughput and reducing inventory.

Most companies today have taken steps to manage expenses and inventory levels without negatively impacting customer service. Companies have hired consultants to reorganize their production areas in order to speed up the flow of goods by a few minutes here and there, or made significant investments in software to optimize production, resource and inventory allocations. Yet for many manufacturers, it is still possible to cut additional days out of their production cycle by implementing a high-throughput, rapid microbial screening system.

Surprisingly, many of today’s modern, automated manufacturing facilities still test for microbiological contamination using a method dating back to the late 1800s. This traditional method relies on visual identification of microbial growth and averages five days for non-sterile and a minimum of 14 days for sterile products. During this wait time, raw materials, in-process batch or finished goods can be quarantined – adding days to manufacturing lead times, tying up working capital and ultimately leaving the facility far from fiscally fit.

Fortunately, current rapid microbial screening systems – which are validated and accepted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration – enable manufacturers to accurately screen for the absence of microbial contamination in only 24 hours, ensuring product quality and trimming four days from the average production cycle. Similarly, rapid methods can also be used for sterility testing, providing results in seven days vs. 14 to 17 with traditional methods and cutting a week or more from production. The financial savings can be tremendous. For example, one major pharmaceutical company was waiting 14 days for results from an in-process sterility test. During this past year, they validated and switched to a microbial screening system that enables them to release batches within two days, saving 12 days from their production cycle time and reducing this in-process wait time by 85 percent.

Quantifying the Value
Manufacturers can accurately quantify the financial value of implementing a rapid microbial screening system. For example, a high-throughput rapid system can be purchased and installed for less than $100,000, achieve payback in six to nine months, and realize an average five-year net present value in excess of $500,000 for non-sterile testing and well upward of $1 million for sterility testing at a single plant.

Likewise, implementing a rapid system goes a long way toward boosting a facility’s overall fitness score, with a host of quantifiable benefits:

  • Reduces working capital requirements – Rapid methods can decrease investment in product held in quarantined inventory at any given time. And since it takes fewer days to produce the same amount of product, the shortened cycle time also reduces safety stock requirements and its associated working capital investment.
  • Improved operational efficiencies – Shorter cycle times results in a leaner, more responsive manufacturing operation, which improves a company’s financial metrics, including return on invested capital and inventory turns.
  • Improves recovery from contamination events – Rapid detection means earlier detection of contamination when it does occur. This helps to minimize the amount of product affected, accelerate corrective action and get the facility back on track quickly. Also, risk of customer service interruptions or product recalls is minimized.
  • Saves warehouse space Do facility space requirements factor into your five-year planning horizon?How much physicalspace is required in your manufacturing and distribution facilities for in-process inventories and safety stock? Reduced inventories throughout your supply chain may decrease the need for outsourced warehousing, or defer the costs associated with facility expansion.
  • Shortens the cash cycle – With rapid methods, finished goods are released to market faster, leading to an accelerated revenue cycle.
  • Swift decision making – Implementing a rapid screening system provides actionable information that allows product to move forward quickly. When contamination is detected, that batch can be isolated and attention focused on remediation and further process improvement.

Twice as nice in a crisis
As great as it is to take days out of the production cycle, the benefits more than double if there is a contamination event. That’s because the sooner you know about a problem, the faster you can stop the line, get rid of the problem and produce (and test) a replacement batch. In the end, a quicker response time minimizes the overall economic impact of discarded or reprocessed goods and makes you more responsive to customers, saving you money and protecting your reputation.

No Time Like the Present
Even if you’re managing a fairly efficient operation, most companies today have room for improvement. The realizable cost savings and reduction in lead times and working capital requirements will enable your company to pursue more productive endeavors, like funding new projects, developing new products or even conserving cash. Take a close look at your current product release method to see if there is any time in micro-hold that can be reduced. That old method from the 1800s may be comfortable, but it doesn’t do a thing for your figure(s).

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About the Author

Cindy Lieberman joined Celsis Rapid Detection in 2007 as a vice president. She brings significant manufacturing supply chain, technology and healthcare industry experience t...