"Continuous Manufacturing" ... the future of manufacturing?

“Continuous Manufacturing” … the future of manufacturing?

3D Scanning & Printing may change the future of IP protection and Manufacturing, but is the future of manufacturing already here? – “Continuous Manufacturing” … An example of single piece continuous flow with 100% inspection for right first time production?

I am currently reading an excellent book entitled ‘Frugal Innovation – How to do better with less’1 by the authors of ‘Jugaad’2.  The book explores perhaps the leanest encapsulation of ‘Learning By Doing’, ‘Innovation’, ‘Minimum Viable Product’ and ‘Prototyping’ in a single book since ‘Pretotype It: Make sure you are building The Right It before you build It right’3 by former Google Engineering Director and Innovation Alberto Savoia.

All are excellent reads in my view, but all fail to ‘connect the dots’ and imagine a future world of manufacturing.  The new world of manufacturing will briefly exist before itself being overwhelmed by out-of-the-world disruptive and dominating 3D scanning and printing technologies (more about these in another post perhaps) and the eventual inevitable negation of existing ‘patent protections’ when patents become less valuable than the paper they are written on … assuming paper is still made from materials at ever spiralling costs such as trees that is.

Any who …

I began thinking about what the author of ‘Frugal Innovation’ called “Continuous Manufacturing” within the pharmaceutical industry and began to wonder if the master coder of lean ‘Taiichi Ohno’4 would make of it?

This disruptive thinker wrote extensively on the subject of ‘The Toyota Production  System’ and introduced the world to the wisdom of Lean thinking, problem solving, waste reduction, learning by doing, continuous improvement and value creation as the Toyota way to apply this wisdom within management, manufacturing etc…


“Continuous Manufacturing”5 is simply what it says on the tin … on an abstract scale, we could imagine an elaborate magical mystery futuristic machine.  The sound of ting, tang, bing, bang and pop can be heard from behind giant doors built to block prying eyes which seek insights into the next generation of Willy Wonka’s new chocolate factory.  While this is not strictly the case, the truth you could agree maybe more exciting than this fictional factory.

So where is all this magic taking place? … try, a not so secret research and development lab in MIT!6 … yep

… in a galaxy far far away …

Well … the ‘Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing‘ to be more precise … the MIT and Novartis boffins have been collaborating since 2007 to build ‘Manufacturing v2.0′ aka “Continuous Manufacturing’.  They must be onto something because 2017 marks the 10th year of their collaboration and not only are there results looking good … the competition have been accelerating their efforts to realise some of the many rewards.  Also pursuing ‘Continuous Manufacturing’ are GSK7 and SIEMENS8 to name but two.

So, what is ‘Continuous Manufacturing’?

GSK suggest … “In a continuous manufacturing system the chemicals are pumped continuously into a small channel or tube, typically a few mm in diameter. This is designed to precisely control the chemistry so that by the time it leaves the tube your product is made, so no time is lost heating, cooling and discharging.”7

SIEMENS suggest … “continuous production literally makes classic batch processes look outdated … a product that previously took one or even two months in production is finished after two days.”8

And what about those benefits?

One of the GSK engineers suggests … ““Applying this technology can dramatically change our factories. As an example, in one of the processes we are developing; the water use is reduced by 83% and solvent by 42%, leading to a 52% reduction in conversion carbon footprint. The precision and speed that continuous reactors provide also allows for consistent control of product purity. At the same time we are making product in days rather than the months or years it takes to make the product the traditional way.”7

SIEMENS go on to argue their solutions could be at “the industry’s most cutting-edge” and “enable pharmaceutical manufacturers to increase system utilization by a third and to lower their production costs by 10% to 20% after only a short time.”8

While perhaps the leaders Novartis in collaboration with MIT fast approach 2017 saying … “Novartis has committed its manufacturing and R&D resources and $65 million to the Center over the next 10 years.”

Taking a lean look at ‘Continuous Manufacturing’, it struck me that such an approach appears to reflect much of what Taiichi Ohno4 would very much evangelist because it appears the ‘Continuous Manufacturing’ blends lean thinking as it is input at a raw material, processes and the output as a product emerging from a process in my wild imagination some what akin to a giant 3D printer.

‘Continuous Manufacturing’10 appears to me to be a process which has so dramatically improved upon existing manufacturing processes (or additive manufacturing) that a lean look at it would suggest this entire process despite it giant scale could perhaps be one giant demand driven “example of single piece continuous flow with 100% inspection for right first time production”.

I still prefer my mental image of a 3D printer built for a little as $800 as a minimum viable product.  If successful I would then seek to scaled up my miniature factory to a super sized “Continuous Manufacturing” pharmaceutical or chemical production operation.  I can also imagine that it perhaps would cost less than $65 million and be realised with less than 10 years research and development.

Guess what … I’m not alone in such imaginative thinking …

Read More: “New ‘Chemputer’ Could 3D-Print Any Type of Drug!”9




1. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Frugal-Innovation-How-more-less/dp/1781253757

2. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jugaad-Innovation-Flexible-Breakthrough/dp/1118249747

3. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pretotype-building-Right-before-build-ebook/dp/B007JLHL78

4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiichi_Ohno

5. http://www.continuuspharma.com/technology/

6. https://novartis-mit.mit.edu/

7. http://www.gsk.com/en-gb/our-stories/our-planet/continuous-manufacturing/

8. http://www.industry.siemens.com/verticals/global/en/pharma-industries/pages/continuous-manufacturing.aspx

9. http://inhabitat.com/the-3d-chemputer-could-potentially-print-out-any-drug/

10. http://www.continuuspharma.com/technology/





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