GEA, the globally active mechanical and plant engineering company, offers a suite of digital and virtual solutions to support the pharmaceutical industry as it embraces remote working and travel-free manufacturing

In the ever-more relevant digital age, online tools offer a wide range of ways to access, share and disseminate information. Now, as people navigate the ongoing Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic, adapting to concepts such as social distancing and remote working are issues that need to be overcome in many companies and organisations, perhaps none more so than the collaborative world of pharmaceutical research, development and production.

Committed to “Engineering for a better world” and having already invested considerable time and resources to develop state-of-the-art augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications, GEA is making every effort to support its staff and global customers during these challenging times.

Remote Testing

Recently, for instance, the GEA Pharma Solids Center (GPSC) team in Wommelgem, Belgium, completed a challenging test program on a ConsiGma® continuous direct compression (CDC) system entirely remotely — without the customer being physically present. Combining twice daily “plan and review” conference calls with video evidence, the entire process was completed without requiring anyone to travel to the facility.

This service has now been rolled out to other interested customers and, already, two more sets of trials are scheduled, using both continuous and batch technologies, keeping the lab open for business and helping GEA clients to speed much-needed products to market!

Remote Planning

VR allows to present new technologies in a comprehensible way and greatly facilitates the planning and production stages of complex biopharmaceutical plant, enabling customers to visualize their new facility at an early stage and optimize the setup before it’s even built. Design reviews are done remotely using shared VR facilities and the entire detail engineering phase can be finalized without the respective parties having to meet in person. This is not only a significant advantage during the COVID-19 lockdown, it’s also faster and saves money.

Remote Installation Support

To cite a current example, a customer in Hangzhou, China, was just about to start the installation phase of a multi-million Euro biopharmaceutical vaccine project when the COVID-19 lockdown was put in place. No longer able to visit the site, GEA decided to continue the process by offering remote support.

Experts from GEA China in Shanghai are assisting with supervision, mechanical and electrical installation. The European project management team is fully on board and steering the project with online tools such as video calls and screen sharing, and a network of remote-control cameras in the client’s production room to stream information directly to Germany. .

Remote Service

When it comes to on-site support, customers can be assured that, virus permitting, GEA is able to respond to customers’ spare part requirements and service needs. The company can also offer remote assistance in some cases; with the GEA Remote Support service, for example, customers can use a commercially available mobile device in their own production suite to connect and communicate with a GEA expert in real-time to resolve any issues.

And, for plant inspections, to provide support during commissioning and in the event of technical problems, there’s GEA Remote Eye Wear. Thanks to state-of-the-art technology, it offers customers virtual real-time support by a GEA service technician via remote access. As a result, response times are shortened and travel is almost completely avoided.

Remote Training

Ahead of the current crisis, GEA was already improving its training program to make it less dependent on the availability of equipment. Without needing access to real-life plant and using VR training tools, GEA can show operators how to (dis)assemble and run machinery before it’s installed onsite or, like now, when no one’s allowed to travel to give demonstrations in person. To complement GEA’s virtual CDC experience, GEA is currently expanding this technology for a wide range of both batch and continuous processes.

Supporting Customers

Normally, of course GEA product managers would visit customers on site to discuss our technologies and their projects in person. In the current situation, this is not possible. By using videoconferencing and webinars, though, GEA experts can showcase machinery, equipment or processes and answer any questions that may arise remotely.

As stated above, GEA has have established alternative ways to ensure effective knowledge transfer and help both new and established customers with their investments and decision-making processes. Meaningful discussions are still taking place, but face-to-face meetings, supported by VR and AR, are now being done via smartphone and video.

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