When Emergent BioSolutions, a biopharmaceutical company that manufactures the only FDA-licensed anthrax vaccine, wanted to create a more lean manufacturing structure, it went to Michigan State University’s Demmer Center for Business Transformation for help.
“The Demmer Center for Business Transformation provides companies such as Emergent BioSolutions with education and hands-on guidance in strategically transforming into lean enterprises,” explained Shawnee Vickery, Demmer Legacy Fellow and faculty director of the Demmer Center.
For Emergent, that means balancing a complex production process and strict regulatory requirements to ship vaccine lots with batch and testing documentation that proves the product’s safety, purity, and efficacy to regulators’ satisfaction.
The first step was educating Emergent executives through Strategic Lean Transformation, an executive development program led by Demmer Center staff. The training program uses simulations to help executives understand the transformation process and a variety of ways of supporting lean initiatives.
Executives used newly learned tactics to lead their own lean transformation with support from Demmer coaches. An anthrax vaccine manufacturing process value stream map was created, and several continuous improvement exercises (kaizens) were conducted to eliminate waste and improve product and documentation flow through the value stream. Improvement effectiveness was then measured over several months. Through this effort, resources were focused on those tasks that truly added customer value and those processes that were identified as unnecessary were eliminated.
Since then, Emergent staff has continued to learn and lead lean initiatives, training other employees on lean fundamentals and finding more opportunities to streamline processes focusing on the most valuable tasks. Wordy standard operating procedure documents have been translated into process maps that are a visual instruction tool enabling continued thought about what work creates value and what work is wasted. Lean concepts have even reached beyond the manufacturing floor and testing laboratories through kaizen events involving business and administrative processes.
“Our main concern is knowledge transfer,” said Jim Manley, managing director of the Demmer Center. “It’s the process of helping our clients do things for themselves, versus the consultant model of hiring us to do it for them again and again.”
“The Demmer Center helped us to first learn lean practices and then implement them,” said Jerry Browne, specialist, manufacturing support. “Their training has been invaluable to empowering employees to continually improve how we work.”
The results have been fantastic for Emergent, helping them to see the long-term possibilities of increasing throughput capacity as they continuously challenge and improve various processes over time. Meanwhile, morale has improved as more employees have been involved in the initiatives.
“Everyone has frustrations in the workplace,” said Mike Vallender, Emergent’s director of manufacturing. “This is a tool to solve those problems. Lean gives you a vehicle to help create your own job satisfaction through involvement in the process and critically looking at the tasks that you perform on a day-to-day basis.”