Pharma manufacturers scale to meet demand in treatment for the Omicron variant. Amazon’s AI determines better packaging. Deere’s autonomous tractors till the fields. The AI of Things is coming.
The 2020 year in review aggregates the best reporting of themes within manufacturing and supply chains during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Merck Teams Up With Rival J&J to Help Produce Its Covid Vaccine
How Corning Borrowed Gorilla Glass Tech To Make Covid Vaccine Vials
Germany’s va-Q-Tec stays cool as Covid vaccine demand heats up
The result of the successful development of the COVID-19 vaccine is a surging demand for insulated containers to transport the doses. Va-Q-Tec, a German packaging company that makes containers for COVID-19 doses, tells their story on how their business has been transformed by the race to vaccinate the world.
Automation Boosts Production of Masks
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a massive surge in demand for a variety of medical devices, not the least of which are N95 respirators and other personal protective equipment. To meet that need, manufacturers worldwide are building new factories and installing new automated assembly lines. Two of those companies are Breathe Medical Manufacturing in Kelowna, BC, Canada, and Husco International Inc. in Waukesha, WI.
While designing the new facility, Warren Jones, partner at Breathe Medical, realized early on that conveyors would be needed to transport masks throughout production. Together, Dorner, Shelley and Apex designed a conveyor system to support 12 mask assembly machines. Using Dorner’s FlexMove conveyors and custom workpiece carriers, Breathe Medical will be able to transport masks from machine to machine with optimal efficiency.
Pfizer’s Edge in the COVID-19 Vaccine Race: Data Science
Pfizer dominated news headlines and family dinner conversations last December when it became the first company to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to the U.S. market. The pharma giant accomplished the feat in record time: less than a year after the disease was first identified.
Integral to that effort was the work of Pfizer’s informatics and digital technology team for its vaccine R&D business. Led by Frank DePierro, this group of researchers crunched and chronicled all of the clinical trial data that led to a green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and a safeguard for millions of people.
COVID-19 Drives Industry 4.0 — and Reshoring
Resiliency concerns revealed by the COVID-19 pandemic are driving both reshoring and digital transformation. A realignment of priorities towards risk mitigation, agility, responsiveness and faster time-to-market are encouraging companies to shorten supply chains and reshore; 47 percent of small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) are reevaluating supply chains.
To be cost-competitive, domestic manufacturers are looking to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies to close the labor price gap. New technologies are a game changer in achieving U.S. competitiveness and reshoring.
Smart conveyors streamline wet wipes packaging challenges
Wet wipe manufacturing automation can produce up to 500 stacks of wipes per minute, in counts ranging from 20 to 100 single-ply sheets per stack. At these high throughput levels, downstream systems for primary and secondary packaging like shrink wrappers and case packers cannot handle the volume of product flow unless it is split into multiple packaging machinery lines.
No matter how efficient shrink wrappers, labelers and case packers may be, if the wet wipes packaging line does not use conveyors adequately designed for the handling of fragile products like wet wipes, and precisely stage these products for infeed, the product quality, throughput speed and cost-efficiency of the entire production and packaging line will be compromised.
How Pfizer Makes Its Covid-19 Vaccine
“This is where the magic happens.”– Patrick McEvoysenior director of operations and engineering
A rack of 16 pumps precisely controls the flow of the mRNA and lipid solutions, then mixes them together to create lipid nanoparticles.
When the lipids come into contact with the naked strands of mRNA, electric charge pulls them together in a nanosecond. The mRNA is enveloped in several layers of lipids, forming an oily, protective vaccine particle.
Synchronizing eight pairs of pumps is not an ideal solution, but Pfizer engineers chose to scale up existing technology instead of trying to build a larger, unproven type of precision mixing device.
The newly made vaccine is filtered to remove the ethanol, concentrated and filtered again to remove any impurities, and finally sterilized.
Why We Can't Make Vaccine Doses Any Faster
The Trump administration deployed the Defense Production Act last year to give vaccine manufacturers priority in accessing crucial production supplies before anyone else could buy them. And the Biden administration used it to help Pfizer obtain specialized needles that can squeeze a sixth dose from the company’s vials, as well as for two critical manufacturing components: filling pumps and tangential flow filtration units. The pumps help supply the lipid nanoparticles that hold and protect the mRNA — the vaccines’ active ingredient, so to speak — and also fill vials with finished vaccine. The filtration units remove unneeded solutions and other materials used in the manufacturing process.
These highly precise pieces of equipment are not typically available on demand, said Matthew Johnson, senior director of product management at Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute, who works on developing mRNA vaccines, but not for COVID-19. “Right now, there is so much growth in biopharmaceuticals, plus the pinch of the pandemic,” he said. “Many equipment suppliers are sold out of production, and even products scheduled to be made, in some cases, sold out for a year or so looking forward.”
Augmented Reality Gets Pandemic Boost
Augmented reality, which superimposes digital content onto a user’s view of the real world, became more valuable for some companies such as Mercedes-Benz USA and L’Oréal SA last year amid social distancing requirements and lockdowns. The companies are using the technology to provide assistance for employees and consumers in real-time, without needing to be physically present.
Inside one of the new, quick-build factories making the Moderna vaccine
The race to produce as much of the new vaccine as possible goes through these factories, which were spun up much faster than usual by building the shells before the vaccine production process was finalized.
The story of mRNA: How a once-dismissed idea became a leading technology in the Covid vaccine race
The liquid that many hope could help end the Covid-19 pandemic is stored in a nondescript metal tank in a manufacturing complex owned by Pfizer, one of the world’s biggest drug companies. There is nothing remarkable about the container, which could fit in a walk-in closet, except that its contents could end up in the world’s first authorized Covid-19 vaccine.
Pfizer, a 171-year-old Fortune 500 powerhouse, has made a billion-dollar bet on that dream. So has a brash, young rival just 23 miles away in Cambridge, Mass. Moderna, a 10-year-old biotech company with billions in market valuation but no approved products, is racing forward with a vaccine of its own. Its new sprawling drug-making facility nearby is hiring workers at a fast clip in the hopes of making history — and a lot of money.
How Instacart fixed its A.I. and keeps up with the coronavirus pandemic
Like many companies, online grocery delivery service Instacart has spent the past few months overhauling its machine-learning models because the coronavirus pandemic has drastically changed how customers behave.
Starting in mid-March, Instacart’s all-important technology for predicting whether certain products would be available at specific stores became increasingly inaccurate. The accuracy of a metric used to evaluate how many items are found at a store dropped to 61% from 93%, tipping off the Instacart engineers that they needed to re-train their machine learning model that predicts an item’s availability at a store. After all, customers could get annoyed being told one thing—the item that they wanted was available—when in fact it wasn’t, resulting in products never being delivered. ‘A shock to the system’ is how Instacart’s machine learning director Sharath Rao described the problem to Fortune.
How Ford, GM, FCA, and Tesla are bringing back factory workers
In the last week, factory employees have returned to work across the United States to make cars for the country’s four main auto manufacturers: Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and Tesla. And each of those companies has published a plan showing how it will try to keep those workers from contracting or spreading COVID-19.
Those plans largely take the same shape. They’re presented in glossy PDF pamphlets, each starting with a letter to employees from the respective company’s highest-ranking executive overseeing workplace safety. Like any corporate document, they occasionally get bogged down with platitudes. But they all largely describe a lot of the same basic precautions, including supplying employees with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like masks or enforcing physical distancing of at least six feet.
The case of the missing toilet paper: How the coronavirus exposed U.S. supply chain flaws
Before executives at consumer-goods giant Kimberly-Clark rushed to shut their offices on Friday the 13th of March, they convened for one last emergency meeting. Commuting home that final time, Arist Mastorides, president of family care for North America, stopped at his local Walmart, on the edge of Lake Winnebago in Neenah, Wis., to see the emergency firsthand. Mastorides oversees toilet paper brands like Cottonelle and Scott, but that evening he could find none of his own products. “A long gondola shelf that’s completely empty of bathroom and facial tissue, I never in my life thought I would ever see that,” he says. “That’s a very unsettling thing.”
Why Meatpacking Plants Have Become Covid-19 Hot Spots
In Texas, the fastest growing Covid-19 outbreak isn’t in Dallas or Houston or San Antonio, the state’s most densely packed metro areas. It’s hundreds of miles to the north, in the dusty, windswept flatlands of Moore County, population 20,000. According to data reported Monday by the state health department, 19 out of 1,000 residents in Moore County have so far tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 — 10 times higher than the infection rates in the state’s largest cities.
So what’s in Moore County that’s making people so sick? One of the nation’s largest beef processing facilities, where huge armies of employees slice, shave, and clean up to 5,000 cattle carcasses a day. Last month, Texas health officials launched an investigation into a cluster of Covid-19 cases linked to the massive meatpacking plant, which is operated by JBS USA, a subsidiary of the largest meat processing company in the world, based in São Paulo, Brazil.
The algorithms big companies use to manage their supply chains don’t work during pandemics
Even during a pandemic, Walmart’s supply chain managers have to make sure stores and warehouses are stocked with the things customers want and need. COVID-19, though, has thrown off the digital program that helps them predict how many diapers and garden hoses they need to keep on the shelves.
Normally, the system can reliably analyze things like inventory levels, historical purchasing trends, and discounts to recommend how much of a product to order. During the worldwide disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the program’s recommendations are changing more frequently. “It’s become more dynamic, and the frequency we’re looking at it has increased,” a Walmart supply chain manager, who asked not to be named because he didn’t have permission to speak to the media, told The Verge.
How GM and Ford switched out pickup trucks for breathing machines
In the most severe cases of COVID-19, a patient’s lungs become so inflamed and full of fluid that they no longer deliver enough oxygen to the bloodstream to keep that person alive. One way to counteract this is by using a ventilator, which helps the patient’s lungs operate while the rest of the body fights off the virus.
As the spread of the new coronavirus bloomed into a pandemic, it became clear that there may not be enough ventilators in the United States (and around the world) to treat the coming wave of patients with these severe symptoms.
'It'll never be fast enough': 5 questions for a ventilator manufacturer
Making more ventilators in time to help coronavirus victims is hard enough. But what about manufacturing the sophisticated equipment needed to clinically test them? Or hospital beds for the patients using them?
COVID-19: What it means for industrial manufacturing
The COVID-19 pandemic is already ushering in a host of challenges to US industrial manufacturers, especially those that depend on workers whose jobs cannot be carried out remotely. About 80% of manufacturers expect that the pandemic will have a financial impact on their business, according to a recent survey of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). That is significantly higher than the 48% of cross-industry companies that are concerned about the same impact, which is based on CFO responses to a recent PwC survey.
From apple juice to antibiotics: Coronavirus epidemic could cause U.S. shortages
The toll of the ongoing coronavirus epidemic in human life is already devastating enough. But as quarantines continue in China, it looks like the global economic impact of the virus could be incredibly destructive too.
China is a manufacturing superpower, supplying both critical equipment and items of convenience. With some of the country’s citizens unable to report to work and exports curtailed, there are already shortages that have some companies worried.