The virus transport medium tube containing liquid medium is used to store and transport nasal swabs to detect viruses including COVID-19. In 20 weeks, 16 integrated lines were designed, constructed and installed to meet the demand.
For most life science manufacturers that produce COVID-19 test materials, PPE or therapies this year, “Nimble” is an understatement.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Thermo Fisher Scientific acted quickly and began to increase the production of its virus transfer medium (VTM) tubes. Later, they received an order from the US government to increase their weekly output from 50,000 to 10 million units per week.
The VTM tube with liquid culture medium is used to store and transport viral nasal swabs including SARS-CoV-2. In March, Thermo Fisher’s factory in Lenexa, Kansas, started filling 10 and 15 mL conical tubes. The company operates 24/7 and modified its production line at the beginning of the pandemic to speed up the operation, but it is clear that they need new machines to meet demand. Considerations for exceeding speed include:
This will not cause capping problems, but if a tube leak occurs and media spills on other components (such as paper feed screws or labeling machines), the equipment may become tied up and cause downtime.
The VTM production line also needs to be expanded at Thermo Fisher’s plants in Perth, Scotland and Wessel, Germany. In Perth and Wesel, operations both switch between filling VTM and brine based on current demand. Gourley explained: “It’s the same tube and cap, the same fill size. The difference lies in the liquid itself, label requirements and different pump settings.”
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When Gourley arrived at Lenexa from his usual IL factory in March, there was an urgent need to understand the process and determine where automation could significantly increase production.
Speed ​​is the key. The suppliers of the Thermo Fisher project team are willing to drive components to the factory, rather than overnight or two days of transportation, because they know they are counting every hour.
Gourley recommends using Morrison’s container handling solution for high-speed integrated production lines. “I have been working with Morrison for about three or four years. They have completed some screw feeds and integrated them with Rockford’s production line.”
The initial request for Morrison was whether they could create a smaller system in about a week. “They immediately jumped up and moved on. They prepared the offer the next day, all night long. All projects were implemented step by step. But Guri said that in this case, time does not allow this, and pointed out: “This is one time. One morning, we took it out on a napkin. The next morning, we put them together. ”
It is difficult to determine the project details of a constantly changing goal. “Every day changes. The original goal was one million per week, and this only lasted three to four months.” Gourley said. “It all started with, maybe. But can you do it? We have four orders, and then the government asked a question about how do we get 10 million a week and what we need.”
The original order for the No. 1 machine was placed in early April, and the first machine was shipped in about 5 weeks. This includes design from scratch to manufacturing, construction/assembly and testing. In the next 20 weeks, a total of 14 systems were shipped to Lenexa and 2 systems were shipped overseas. From one perspective, the normal quotation delivery time for a system/production line can be 20 weeks or more.
The Morrison system enables Thermo Fisher to orient, accommodate, move and support pointed cone tubes. Handle them from the double feed bowl solution so that they fall into the screws. (R-Tech Feeders Inc., located in Rockford, Illinois, provided Morrison Screws with a tube lifter, a feeder bowl, and a lowering mechanism for shuttles through the tube.) Then, the system is aligned under the filling head at a time The six tubes are indexed, under the bottle cap applicator, and then put into the spindle capper. (The APEX filling system located in Michigan, Indiana provides a cap sorter and capper.)
Filling and torque checks are produced every 15 minutes. There is also a coverless sensor and a bent cover sensor at the exit of the machine. If a cap problem is detected, the machine will stop running and warn the operator to remove the tube, then the operator can reset and start the machine. When running at 120-132 ppm, every second counts.
The Morrison system enables Thermo Fisher to orient, accommodate, move and support pointed cone tubes.
The Dorner conveyor moves the tube directly from the machine, from the clean room to the labeling machine, and then automatically feeds it into the labeling machine. There are still operators performing quality checks or interventions on the labeling machine. (The label applicator is provided by Pack Leader USA in MO.)
As many business travelers have discovered, travel restrictions hinder some travel. Gourley said: “Between Chicago and Lenexa, Kansas, there are still restrictions, but due to the key requirements of the project, we received a higher level of approval.”
For European sites, the situation is completely different. “For Scotland, we tried to get those support staff to the scene in Chicago on the weekend of July 4th through the embassy and government to inspect their Morrison machines and become part of the Lenexa installation. But we were unable to install them on their machines. Obtain approval before arriving at the scene.” He explained.
Gourley and his colleagues completed all 16 factory acceptance tests (FAT) at the Morrison site. The company implemented/recorded a virtual FAT for the European site. He said: “For the first two agreements, we developed/worked through the agreements and distributed them for approval, so we knew what we were looking for. But we also have a time limit-we have already booked the aircraft. The new system only Can run so many lamps, and we only have so much time.”
Both Perth and Wesel only received instructions, video and call support machines. However, each site received, installed and operated their first computer within five to six days.
By that time, Lenexa employees had installed about 7 machines in the United States, so they had learned a lot of lessons, videos, PowerPoint, instructions about the sequence, and matters needing attention. “When creating these specific systems, we were part of the complete construction, complete runoff, and complete disassembly. We went through piles of blue tape, pasted notes, aligned functions, recorded all dimensions and the previous few Anything the machines have learned. It’s crazy to think that we are shipping machines from all over the world to sites that have never actually seen or operated these devices. Thank you very much for the patience and perseverance of the host individuals,” Guri said.
The company uses Microsoft’s HoloLens program to obtain real-time video from an augmented reality headset. “We were able to view their troubleshooting issues in real time, and they were able to view their machines in real time during the verification period and ask as many questions as possible. “We created the file to make everything available immediately, so if they have a problem, and It can be viewed in a headset, and I can directly pull pictures, sizes and videos to their screens and viewpoints for direct comparison. Gourley explained.
One of the most difficult parts of remote work is not the machine integration itself, but the time difference between the sites-Perth takes 6 hours and Weatherhead takes 7 hours. Which site works during working hours and which stops? “Everyone did it. This is 24 hours support,” he said.
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The biggest regulatory hurdle they must overcome is to ensure that they meet all the CE marking requirements of the Perth and Wesel departments (European equipment must demonstrate its safety compliance). Gourley said: “We introduced a third party as soon as possible to fully understand the CE standards and other safety requirements. We immediately started talking with the environmental health and safety teams of the two factories to ensure that we not only comply with CE, but also comply with their requirements. The expectation of factory safety.”
After an increase of 20,000%, you might think that you should relax. Lenexa’s factory has now installed 14 production lines (as of August 25), which can produce 10 million VTM tubes per week.
But the work continues. Thermo Fisher has ordered 14 more systems, 4 of which are for Lenexa and 10 for Scotland. “The Morrison team and supporting vendors started from scratch and built 30 systems between March and the end of this year. They won a lot of honors. Among R Tech, Apex and many subcontractors, this is indeed The team’s efforts also have a lot of honors for the Thermo Fisher employees (including the engineering and procurement teams). There must be a lot of cooperation,” he said.
It is too early to really talk about efficiency, especially with the rapid increase in personnel and training, but they average more than 100 tubes per minute per machine. Gourley explained: “These machines are running very well and have exceeded our expected OEE. Now, we have got rid of the initial troubles and the operators are more familiar with the operation.”
Understandably, Thermo Fisher encountered space issues, especially when they looked at the supply chain to load the pipes, lids, and media onto the machine. “The area of ​​No. 1 machine is much smaller than that of No. 2 to No. 16 machines. Its height, length and width are shorter, and it can fit the whole room. It is still a screw feeder, but the transportation of bottle caps The export is different,” he said.
The new facility is regarded as Project Patriot, costing US$40 million, dedicated to VTM production and quality control, and it will play a role in the future development of influenza and other virus products. Lenexa’s second factory is used for filling lines, packaging, etc. More than 300 new employees have been hired, and the site hopes to hire more than 100 more employees. This new facility, costing US$40 million, will be strictly dedicated to the production and quality control of VTM, and will play an important role in the development of influenza and other viral products. Known as Project Patriot, the 120,000 square foot expansion and steel pipe production can be viewed here.
“When we signed the lease on May 18, it was an empty shell. By July 4, our country’s Independence Day (a milestone in the Patriot program) achieved the first batch of production units offline,” said Bray, vice president. Said Bret Johnson. Global operations of Thermo Fisher’s professional diagnostics business.
The Lenexa team learned a lot during the whole process, especially on the No. 1 machine, because in a sense, this is a brand new system, which is true for Thermo Fisher, Morrison and everyone involved. “For units 2 to 16, we have learned a lot of lessons and worked hard to implement them. We have gone back and implemented some on #1,” Gourley said.
Collaboration between Morrison, Thermo Fisher and other suppliers is the key. He added: “We will prepare Morrison machines on Monday, receive components from suppliers on Tuesday, run the complete system on Wednesday, and perform FAT-ing and shipping on Thursday and Friday. At some point, we will Three systems were delivered within a week, one of which was international.”
The team will continue to study more streamlined processes and automation to aid inspection and packaging. Currently, operators need to visually inspect the contents and cover of the media, and check the label for wrinkles, damage, and legibility. Then, pass the test tube to the operator who fills 72 counting boxes in Lenexa.
Each machine produces approximately 24,000 tubes every three and a half to four hours-about one pallet and half the material. At peak times, there are 12 machines in operation and there will be a pallet about every four minutes. Therefore, with these new machines, a large amount of goods can be processed.
Gourley commented: “The Morrison machine, as well as the efforts of all other suppliers, and all the personal dedication of Thermo Fisher is the key to enabling us to fulfill the federal government contract. In general, we have put in a lot of hard work, And everyone invested 110% of their energy to make these test kits available to society.
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Post time: Nov-02-2020