Wi-Fi network improves operator efficiency for Novartis in France

27 July 2010

A plant-wide wireless network is helping to improve maintenance and operator efficiency at the Novartis biotech production centre at Huningue, in the north east of France. The combination of a digital automation system with a fully integrated Wi-Fi network and mobile operator stations provides process and plant information to operators and maintenance staff throughout the facility.

At Novartis, 17 mobile operator stations and 100 DeltaV controllers are spread over two systems to control the cell cultivation, harvesting, purification and freezing processes
At Novartis, 17 mobile operator stations and 100 DeltaV controllers are spread over two systems to control the cell cultivation, harvesting, purification and freezing processes

Norvartis employs over 300 people at Huningue where it produces the active ingredient for Xolair®, a drug used to treat moderate to severe persistent asthma, as well as several monoclonal antibodies and an immunosuppressant. Xolair is derived from genetically modified mammalian cells that are cultivated in a laboratory before being fermented in various bioreactors.

Localised control is essential to the efficient management of the process which is spread over three production levels, as well as being geographically dispersed. Novartis implemented a distributed architecture, based on Emerson’s DeltaV system. This has enabled operator stations to be located near the main areas of the process such as the bioreactors and tanks. To further maximise operator efficiency, Novartis recognised that they needed a control architecture that enabled their operators to be fully mobile.

Novartis is a pioneer in implementing new technology and has been using wireless since the year 2000. In 2008, when migrating to version 9 of Emerson’s DeltaV system, the company benefited from developments including integrated Wi-Fi and wireless security. In 2009, Novartis expanded the wireless architecture with additional Wi-Fi access points, implementing a complete mobile wireless solution with the DeltaV system.

"In 2000 we introduced wireless technology and recognised that it was well suited to our needs. The most recent developments to Emerson’s DeltaV system have enabled us to implement a plant wide wireless solution,” said Philippe Heitz, Head of Engineering, Novartis.

Novartis has installed a wireless network with coverage obtained on all three production levels using ten Wi-Fi access points. The network includes 17 mobile operator stations and 100 DeltaV controllers, spread over two systems. The first system controls the upstream process of cell cultivation and harvesting. The second controls the downstream phase of purification and freezing.

The mobile operator stations provide complete flexibility to control the manufacturing processes. To meet the standards required for sterile zones, the mobile operator stations have a stainless steel enclosure. The devices are equipped with a USB connection to the usual keyboard, monitor and mouse for this type of environment and connect to the network of Wi-Fi access points.

Operators can move from one level to another with their mobile station and still maintain an overview of the process. This has not only significantly improved operator efficiency but it has also made it possible to reduce the number of workstations required by half.

There have also been efficiency improvements in the area of plant maintenance. For example, by using a mobile workstation it is now possible for just one person to calibrate the instruments when previously it would have required two.

Should any workstation have a fault there is no longer a need to shut down a process while the station is fixed or replaced. The flexibility offered by the wireless network and mobile workstations provides a perfect back up system. A further benefit is that when a new product is being launched or a recipe changed, the mobile stations can be moved throughout the plant as required, removing the need to install new operator stations.

"Because of the wireless network we do not need to systematically invest in new control stations, even if the production of new products requires a change to the plant equipment or layout," explained Patrick Boschert, Automation Expert, Novartis.

The benefits of the automation system coupled with the wireless architecture has helped Novartis to diversify production, changing from a single-chain product, such as Xolair, to being able to produce multi-chain products such as monoclonal antibodies and immunosuppressives.

Wireless hydrocarbon leak detection

Down at the instrument level, Emerson has been introducing a set of wireless instruments to gather pressure and temperature data for the control system. The latest instrument added to the wireless stable bring an exotic function: leak detection. The new instrument, the Rosemount® 702, makes it easy for operators to quickly and inexpensively add hydrocarbon leak detection and monitoring for single tanks, large tank farms, and pipelines.

This has come about by thee integration of Emerson’s Wireless Discrete transmitters with Tyco® TraceTek sensors.  has enabled cost-effective liquid hydrocarbon leak detection

The instrument helps operators comply with government regulations and ensure that valuable hydrocarbons are not wasted. Distant tanks, pipelines and valves can now be monitored without the need to run expensive signal wires back to the control room. This can result in an estimated savings of up to 60% of the total system cost.

TraceTek sensors react to contact with a liquid hydrocarbon and send a discrete signal to the Rosemount 702 wireless transmitter. The Tyco sensors can sense liquid hydrocarbons, including light and heavy crude and gasoline, in drip pans, sumps and on the surface of water, or even buried under tanks and pipelines.

“The introduction of the Rosemount 702 Discrete Transmitter with hydrocarbon leak detection technology provides new capabilities to implement leak detection solutions that utilize the IEC 62591 WirelessHART technology,” said Bob Karschnia, vice president, wireless at Emerson Process Management, “This allows the hydrocarbon sensor leak detection information to be transported through the mesh network with greater than 99 percent data reliability.”  

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