7 for Siemens Healthineers - Interview about the Megaproject

Dispensing a wide variety of diagnostic fluids

Seven systems, consisting of six lines and a closing machine, are currently under development for Siemens Healthineers and are being installed step by step on two continents. Model lines and new technical solutions are called for to fill and close Siemens Healthineers' own diagnostic products. Steven E. Johnson, Project Manager at Siemens Healthineers, talks about the special challenges and backgrounds of this unusual project in an interview.

The task: A broad range of diagnostic liquids are dispensed into containers and closed. A line type will process cartridges, which are also known as shuttles and have up to three cavities. A second line type is responsible for plastic and glass bottles in sizes ranging from 0.5 ml to 250 ml. Optima has designed both lines based on the OPTIMA Linoline machine type. The glass bottles are once more integrated into an (existing) freeze-drying process, which requires a special flanging machine. An initial bottle system has successfully completed the SAT at a Siemens Healthineers plant in China. Siemens Healthineers develops and manufactures diagnostic products (reagents) under various brand names at international locations.

Important for you
  • A huge project for diagnostic products: Seven plants on two continents
  • This will result in solutions that could be installed in the same manner at each location. Mutual on-site support is one reason for this.
  • In some cases, new solutions – in particular a new leak test – were developed and integrated into the process within the regular project schedule.
  • The main keys to success are the Siemens Healthineers and Optima cross-team approach and strategic partnership.
  • The project was preceded by a selection procedure with countless criteria.
Columbus machine rendering

Optima has designed both line types for Siemens Healthineers based on the OPTIMA Linoline machine type.

Edotorial Team: Mr. Johnson, what diagnostic products will be processed with these new machines?

Steven E. Johnson: 
These are products that are widely used to identify a variety of health problems. They are helping to improve the lives of many people around the world. I'm afraid I can't go into further detail at this point.

How many prescriptions will be stored in the machine control?

We currently have a demand for thousands of prescriptions. And this demand will continue to grow as new products are introduced.

As part of this major project, a new solution was to be developed to specifi cally address the leak test of the cartridges. Did you evaluate the technical solution competence of the suppliers before deciding to invest?

The leak test was one of hundreds of criteria we used to select our supplier for this project. For our first assessment of the leak test, we examined a process that Optima was familiar with. We came to the conclusion that this would not be suitable for our application and therefore we would have to go in another direction. 

How would you rate the technical collaboration with Optima? What about the solution identified for the leak test?

Collaboration between technical departments and project teams is the key to success, especially for a project of this size. With regard to the leak test, Siemens Healthineers brought in a technology Optima was not yet familiar with. Both teams worked closely together, with each side taking part in the process. Now we have a technically advanced solution that was implemented in record time.

Were there any other special solutions or design features that led to the decision to invest?

One of the reasons we chose Optima was because of how they combined the processing of our many products into a few individual lines. Although it was an important aspect of the decision-making process, it was ultimately only one among many that fi nally led us to choose Optima. Another was their willingness to work closely together as a team. For a project of such scale, this is the only way to succeed.

Some of the machines will be installed at a location in China. What is your opinion about the service Optima off ers from its Chinese location?

That was another factor in our selection process. The service in China was something we thoroughly examined. We found that some suppliers offer support in name only and others, like Optima, have a true service location with teams that work well together on a global basis. 
Our team takes an ownership approach towards the in stalled equipment, which may differ slightly from other companies. Our long-term expectation is that our teams will be able to solve most problems quickly on their own. All the same, we have already worked with service teams in China on a regular basis and with great success, and will continue to do so in the future.

What is the situation in the USA? 
The service requirements here will also be high.

As I mentioned, we expect an ownership culture for the equipment used by our teams. However, from time to time we do need outside support. So when we started the project, a US branch was something we considered.

Packs are sealed with sealing film and the sealing film contour is cut out with a laser

The containers are sealed with sealing foil and the sealing foil contour is accurately cut out with a laser.

View of labeling machine

The line also includes two labellers.

Some of the new machines in the USA and China will be identical and/or duplicated. Is this part of a strategy to use the same machines at different locations?

Our team has been implementing automated systems and factories around the world for many years and therefore is already very experienced. To build something of this scale in multiple locations requires a solution with standardized platforms that would work virtually anywhere in the world. The most difficult part is to develop the first system to technical perfection. Thanks to Siemens Healthineers' and Optima's one-team philosophy, we have achieved this goal.
As part of our ownership culture, we wanted to have common solutions so that we could better support each other worldwide. If a problem were to occur in China, our team in the USA could tackle it more directly. There are many other reasons for this approach, but I'd rather not go into them in detail.

A few years ago we published an article about a filling and closing machine for Siemens Healthineers diagnostic products. Has the experience with this plant infl uenced the new decision to invest?

We have integrated this information into our evaluation process. In the end, we visited the factory to get more information. This was factored into our decision.

Will the new machines replace the older ones?  
Or are they expansions?

The current projects are there to support our expansion program. However, our longterm goal was and remains to implement comprehensive, common platforms as soon as we have a proven and robust system in place. Therefore, all systems in which we are involved are high performance versions of our older systems. The preliminary planning for this was very complex. If our expectations regarding key requirements such as quality, productivity, cost and timing are met, then we assume older equipment will be replaced by these systems in the near future.

The first line has completed the SAT. What has been your experience with this line?

The feedback we received from the employees directly involved in the SAT of this line has been very positive. The China-based Optima support team was praised for its excellent work during installation, right up to the SAT process. Optima's Chinese support provided us with a safe and secure installation. That was a key aspect of our demanding timeline.
We also found the support provided by the German team in eliminating program errors at the FAT in Germany and at the SAT in China to be exceptional. In the USA, we would definitely say that this team has earned our respect. Very skilled and competent people!

What has been your overall experience with the complete project with all seven lines?

On this point, I'll share what I told my senior management team: "Only those who have been involved in an automation project of this scale will understand the commitment and efforts required for its implementation."
Both Optima and Siemens Healthineers have put in tremendous hours of work to get to where we are today. And we still have a long way to go. These kinds of projects are not for the faint of heart, and the people at Optima are doing a great job collaborating with us.
No project of this scale will be perfect. Both teams know this and are therefore working together very closely to solve problems quickly. Open and honest communication is the be-all and end-all, and I think we will continue with this long after the project has been completed. For both companies, this is a key to achieving a win-win situation. 

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