With more than 40 years of experience in farm animal, pet and equine healthcare, family-run Norbrook Laboratories have developed and registered more than 800 products. Medicines cover food supplements, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and anesthetics. For instance, the company has developed Closamectin, a medicine that has revolutionized parasite treatment in large animals. Available as an injection and a painless pour-on solution, the novel medication is used to treat fluke, worms and lice in cattle and sheep. Based in Newry, Northern Ireland, the company has manufacturing facilities in four continents and markets its products in 120 countries around the globe.
Securing sterilizer performance
At its Newry site, Norbrook runs eight sterile manufacturing lines with sterilizers from different manufacturers to ensure aseptic filling operations and terminal sterilization of a range of products. A further stand-alone hot water shower sterilizer is employed for terminal sterilization only. The majority of the machines are in operation 24/7. After nearly 20 years of service, the control system components of three sterilizers including all mechanical parts needed to be renewed. Norbrook had to choose between upgrading the sterilizers’ control systems with state-of-the-art technology or settling for entirely new equipment. Since all sterilizers were still in perfectly good condition, the decision was obvious.
“We decided to revamp the system controls and visualization technology to maintain robust performance of all three sterilizers and secure the high capacity of our manufacturing lines,” Susan O’Neill, electronics manager/engineering project manager at Norbrook, reports. A further goal consisted in standardizing the equipment to reduce the number of spare parts and minimize operator training. However, the required spare parts were no longer available, and the original machine manufacturer did not provide the services to upgrade this specific equipment. A new partner, who would be able to upgrade third-party machinery, needed to be found.
Equipment simulation in Austria
Norbrook had already made positive experiences with Bosch equipment, amongst others with a distillation unit for the production of WFI (Water for Injection) from the Bosch Packaging Technology subsidiary Pharmatec. “Given our successful cooperation with Bosch, we opted for Bosch Packaging Services as preferred upgrade partner. We also knew they had extensive experience with third-party equipment modernization,” Susan O’Neill explains. Together with the sterilization experts from Bosch’s Austrian subsidiary Schoeller-Bleckmann Medizintechnik (SBM), Bosch Packaging Services initiated a twelve-month project, from evaluating existing equipment, installing and programming the new control systems, through to training Norbrook’s staff in customized workshops. Thanks to the good cooperation, Norbrook was able to keep machine downtime as low as possible.
Prior to implementing the new controls and touch panels in Newry, Bosch thoroughly evaluated the sterilizers’ mechanical and electrical components on-site. This gave the team a precise understanding of Norbrook’s technical requirements. At the SBM site in Ternitz, Austria, Bosch set up a sterilizer with the latest control and visualization technology for testing purposes. Following testing and documentation, the new control and visualization systems where shipped to Ireland and successfully installed in Newry.
Increased precision, safety and standardization
The new equipment components include a Siemens S7 PLC control system and a Siemens Touch Panel IPC 477D, all of which are protected by a stainless steel switch cabinet containing key electrical components. The novel, state-of-the-art technology provides a higher level of precision during sterilizing operations. The touch panel is easy to use and allows to accurately monitor all critical process parameters via its intuitive operator interface. Operators can set up precise batch protocols and trace back recipe changes. This comprehensive documentation makes it easier to prevent or remedy production errors. Customized features such as an animated piping and instrumentation diagram ensure the systems meet Norbrook’s control requirements and allow for reliable and safe sterilizing operations.
The upgraded components further support smooth machine setup and operation, as they significantly simplify calibration and standardize operation procedures across different manufacturing lines. In case of a system failure, operators can react quickly thanks to the clearly structured service menu. It considerably facilitates troubleshooting and enables a faster turnaround on breakdowns. The systems’ high level of standardization enabled Norbrook to cut down on its critical spare parts inventory. Operator and maintenance training was also considerably reduced, as operators who have been trained on one of the upgraded sterilizers can operate all others, too.
More upgrades planned
Following the equipment implementation, Bosch service technicians provided comprehensive process training to further improve Norbrook’s maintenance and operation skills. The workshops covered key aspects of the sterilization process, such as different sterilization technologies, critical parameters and error messages. “Thanks to the structured and highly customized approach of the SBM trainers, we quickly understood how to integrate the new controls into our daily routine. The modernized sterilizers work even more efficiently than before, helping us to maintain the high capacity of all our manufacturing lines,” Susan O’Neill, explains.
The smooth implementation paid off for both project partners: Norbrook was able to keep and upgrade the equipment they had been satisfied with for so many years. As a result, the company is keen to continue the cooperation with Bosch. The animal health expert recently ordered its first new Bosch sterilizer. With the help of Bosch’s service experts and maintenance training sessions, Norbrook is also planning to upgrade seven additional sterilizers across the entire company.