Exploring the implications of OT and IT merging

Health science companies are making better use of data than those in other sectors. But why, and what benefit does this afford them? Nicola Brittain reports.

The IT and OT layers of an organisation have traditionally had very different remits and been run quite separately. However, with automation and virtualisation now ubiquitous, they are no longer distinct. In terms of merging these information types to make use of different data sets across the business, life-science companies are leading the charge, according to Peter Zornio, CTO of technology manufacturer Emerson. He was speaking at the recent Emerson Exchange conference in Dusseldorf. The merging of these technology stacks to make different data sets across the business and the resulting ‘bubbling up’ and sharing of previously siloed data, is leading to improved product time to market, enhanced sustainability, and reduced downtime.

Definition of the stacks

Before we look at why this is happening, it is important to define the types of technology stack to which we are refering. OT (short for Operational Technology) systems tend to be those closer to the plant level and shop floor. They require a user input, as well as data and information from the specific location. They tend to refer to information created in site specific databases, or related to plant specific operations. Reliability and availability are the most important concerns for OT systems. OT information has tended to not be shared across a business.

However, IT systems tend to work across sites, do not require user input and are more focused on security and consistency than the former. Their remit might include internet, cloud, SaaS or CRM services as well as monitoring and information reporting.

Historically, the two stacks were distinct and often at logger heads (with different IT staff in charge) but times have changed and companies need a more holistic view of their data to be able to make the right decisions at the right time. Michalle Adkins director of life science consulting, Emerson said of recently developments: “Being able to merge and move data and information from both these stacks has become essential for the smooth running of labs.” She continues: “Pulling data out of bespoke or specific on-site machines can now be given context and be useful to a wider business. This bubbling up of data – or giving it contextual meaning – can be very useful in a number of scenarios.

Benefits of merging types of operations

Giving data context can lead to the sharing of operational efficiencies found in one site; sharing of capacity if one site is experiencing downtime; spreading research responsibilities if a product needs to be delivered quickly; and the reduction of repeat experiments in different parts of a business. Similarly, research work can be easily learnt from – particularly important in a large company with international sites; finally and importantly batch issues can be traced back to their root providing a better understanding of production problems.

What is Driving this trend?

As Michalle explained there are several key drivers for this development. These include getting new products to market quickly; a desire for pipeline acceleration; or the need to manufacture multiple products at a given process development facility to bring a new product to market quickly. Operational integrity and the need to be able to reliably deliver products on time, in full, and meeting a pre-agreed schedule, can now be almost guaranteed because so many processes are automated. Similarly, equipment issues can be spotted and ironed out early in the process. Releasing products as soon as possible is helped by collating access from all the data across the systems involved. Similarly, sustainability has become increasingly important and being able to move data and information prevents repeat experiments and will improve efficiency. Being able to pinpoint and resolve bottle-necks will also lead to a smoother running facility.

Why are health science companies more advanced?

Although Michalle wasn’t able to say for sure why health science companies are more advanced than other manufacturing sectors in terms of managing and making different types of data available to the wider business (merging their IT and OT systems), she was willing to hazard a guess that it is because there are more siloed parts of a bio-sciences organisation than outfits in other sectors. These will likely include a research facility, a process development facility, a clinical manufacturing arm, and a commercial manufacturing or a contract manufacturing facility (CDMO). Companies also often work with external partners when developing and manufacturing new products. Similarly, it is probably the case that new products are coming on line in health science companies more often than in some other sectors and these require nimbleness and agility as well as a concerted push to get products to market. This sharing of data is probably more necessary in international than smaller companies, and many health science companies work at scale. Although companies in the oil and gas sector, for example, are also huge, they deliver the same product consistently. Simiarly, the manufacture of parts in the process industry may not be subject to the same speed of change as those in the health sciences sector - although this is probably not the case for car components or computer chips which are likely to be subject to similar time-to-market pressures.

How Emerson helps health science customers

Emerson provides a number of products that can help health companies manage their data. These include the DeltaV Automation System which ‘helps eliminate complexity and project risk by offering contextualised data,’ according to the company. In addition, Emerson has developed other related technology for the health sciences sector that including the DeltaV Spectral Process Analytic Technology (PAT), a distributed process control system that uses spectral analysers to measure reflected light frequencies from on-line product samples.

In 2021, the company also acquired a 55% stake in Aspentech in a bid to accelerate its industrial software strategy. Aspentech currently provides a range of data focused applications including twin technology as well as process automation simulation and other impressive tools to help health science companies deliver competitive advantage and cost savings.

Customer case studies

When asked which companies Emerson works with in the health sciences space, an apposite answer might be be ‘who doesn’t it work with?’ Some 29 of the top 30 health science companies use Emerson technology and these include Thermo Fischer, a company that has spoken about its advances in gene therapy as a result of Deltav Automation; and FujiFilm, a CDMO that increases speed to market using a cloning-across-sites system built on utilising Drug Substance Manufacturing (DSM) modules. These modules rely on Emerson’s DeltaV automation system and two DSM modules that share an Emerson Syncade manufacturing execution system (MES). Other customers include Bayer and Novo Nordisk.

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