Unforeseen consequences: how unexpected outages impact manufacturing

August 2, 2023
Unforeseen consequences: how unexpected outages impact manufacturing

In the US, it’s hurricane season - and last week, a tornado ripped through North Carolina (see devastating video footage via the BBC, here), destroying buildings and property on its journey. 

One of those buildings was the Rocky Mount pharmaceutical manufacturing facility operated by Pfizer: as it turns out, the site produces nearly 30% of all sterile injectables used in US hospitals, including specific products like anti-infectives and neuromuscular blockers, as well as vials and syringes. 

As a result, Pfizer has implemented limits on how much of some substances, such as fentanyl and lidocaine, customers can buy, with some estimates suggesting the US has less than 3-months supply of such products at present.   

It highlights the challenges faced within manufacturing, which often relies on so-called ‘just-in-time’ supply chains, and yet is no stranger to interrupted production.  

Still, in an industry where precision and efficiency are paramount, unexpected outages can wreak havoc, causing severe disruptions both for those immediately affected, as well as less obvious effects elsewhere. 

How might that work in practice? Well, the company says its output will likely be affected in the short-term - resulting in likely shortages both of the drugs and medicines that it usually supplies, as well as of components, like syringes, that are vital for delivering other solutions to other patients. 

What happens next?

However, from that simple conclusion - that Pfizer’s output in North Carolina could be disrupted - there’s a huge amount of potential ripple effects that could subsequently affect the pharma manufacturing industry in the US, and beyond - both in the immediate term, and going forward. Including:

  • Pfizer may seek to meet demand for its products by retooling other facilities to fill orders
  • While this action avoids disappointing customers and meets their needs, other facilities won’t be as well optimised to produce the required items as its North Carolina plant was, potentially resulting in less efficient output
  • If Pfizer does retool other facilities to meet production, that means fewer supplies of what those units usually produce - possibly causing unexpected shortages of seemingly unassociated goods and services
  • Customers will likely turn to alternative suppliers of substances like anaesthetics and painkillers: creating potential issues both for prescribers and patients alike, who may suddenly find themselves using drugs that are slightly different from those they are used to
  • Depending on the extent of the outage, there are open questions as to what happens to the Rocky Mount facility, which employs 4,500 people (all of whom were unharmed in the incident). Will the factory be put back together exactly as before, or is it an opportunity to optimize operations - potentially affecting how the factory functions, and what it produces?

Mitigating the impact

While some events are unavoidable, manufacturers everywhere can take proactive measures to mitigate the impact of unexpected outages. These include:

  • Disaster preparedness: comprehensive disaster recovery plans to ensure a swift response and recovery in the event of a disruption
  • Diversified supply chains: identifying alternative suppliers and distribution channels reduces reliance on a single source and minimize the impact when the worst happens
  • Insurance coverage: it’s the safety net that gets you back on your feet, providing protection against unexpected losses and outages
  • Advanced technology: automation, artificial intelligence, and predictive maintenance can enhance operational resilience and identify potential issues before they escalate

At CloudNC, we’re not in the business of preventing tornadoes… but our software solutions can help CAM programmers save up to 80% of time when machining parts in a CNC machine, resulting in hundreds of production hours saved. 

So in an extreme situation where you suddenly need to reprogram an entire production line - or in more everyday circumstances, like you’re trying to optimise your programmers’ time, or upskill junior staff - we can help. Get in touch to find out more about our CAM Assist solution.

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