Madison Biotech Supplier Goes Lean to Stave Off Foreign Competitors

2/19/14Follow @XconomyWI

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1993 by Rajan Suri, who developed the concept of Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM), which aims to achieve the same efficiency gains as programs like Six Sigma, that tend to be focused on large-scale manufacturing. But QRM is tailored more toward the manufacturing of diverse, smaller-scale, custom-engineered products, and its principles are applied across the enterprise, not just in the production area, Krishnamurthy said.

The QRM center has consulted for manufacturers in multiple industries, but only started serving biotech companies about three years ago, he said.

The tricky (but interesting) part for UW engineers is adapting to the inconsistencies of biological manufacturing, which involves working with living cells, versus working with inorganic materials like steel in traditional manufacturing facilities, Foti said.

“They’re trying to get their head around applying these [QRM] principles to these process steps where there’s more risk for variability, and does it work the same way with their theories?” Foti said. “The only way they can prove that is to partner with companies like Aldevron where they gather data.”

Over the past year, Tugce Martagan, a research assistant and engineering PhD candidate, has observed Aldevron’s 6,000-square-foot lab and collected data on its production process. She has helped build a beta version of a software tool in Microsoft Excel that is meant to help Aldevron more seamlessly lay out its production schedule and develop better plans for utilizing its resources.

Aldevron logoA typical order from a customer can take an average of four or five weeks for Aldevron to make—from cloning the gene to culturing the cells to purifying the proteins to shipping the finished protein back to the customer, Foti said. The analytical software tool will help foresee and alleviate bottlenecks in Aldevron’s production lines, such as a protein purification machine that takes 12 hours to perform each run.

“We’ve looked at when do you start a process, and [we are] thinking about second shifts or some type of weekend schedule, to try to get more output per unit time,” Foti said. “[The project] forced us to think about our equipment base, where our constraints are, where we want to make investments, but also how we schedule things.”

Aldevron Madison serves about 100 customers. The top 15 customers generate the majority of Aldevron’s revenue. Foti declined to share exact numbers, but said his division’s sales tripled last year.

He is considering hiring four new employees this year, and if the company inks a few key contracts, Aldevron might need to add lab space in Madison, Foti said.

Foti expects to start seeing the impact … Next Page »

Jeff Engel is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jengel@xconomy.com Follow @XconomyWI

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