The Life Sciences industry has been at the forefront of innovation in healthcare in recent years. Even before the world experienced the impacts of the global pandemic, the sector had seen massive growth as health authorities, researchers and innovators seek to find new ways to tackle large-scale health problems.
While the sector is still regarded to be in its infancy, many analysts anticipate a steep growth curve with areas such as pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical devices all becoming opportunities for significant scientific progress. To realise the sector’s massive potential, organisations delivering important raw materials and ingredients to the field need the ability to scale in line with growing global demand.
One organisation serving the flourishing sector is Greenfield Global. Working with Rockwell Automation and Alpha Automation, the company achieved an astonishing feat of operationalising a new ethanol production and distribution plant against the arduous backdrop of pandemic-related resistrictions. The plant now serves as the base for Greenfield to meet the demands of its Life Sciences customers in Europe and help its expansion into global markets.
Starting with an Ambitious Plan
Greenfield Global is a Canadian ethanol producer with global ambitions. Headquartered in Toronto, the company is a leading producer and supplier of raw materials, ingredients and additives for use in the specialty chemicals, distilled spirits and renewable energy sectors. Its products are used across a range of industries, including biomedicine, food and beverage and renewable energy.
Already operating a tightly integrated network of distillaries in North America, the company wanted to expand its presence into Europe. The new facility would open up new commercial opportunities, with a primary focus on serving the needs of the fast-expanding Life Sciences sector as well as a host of other strategically important sectors in the region.
The company chose to build its new plant in Portlaoise, Ireland. The plant, which includes a 41,000 square foot facility with 15,000 square feet of warehousing, was created to produce GMP Aqueous Solutions, serving their Global Life Science, Food, Flavour and Fragrance customers. Greenfield chose Ireland primarily to serve the many Life Science customers now manufacturing in Ireland, but also because the company sees Ireland as a natural gateway to the EU market. Furthermore, the CETA agreement has meant Greenfield could connect its North American and EU operations more easily.
The plant specialises in serving biotech customers, delivering bioprocess solutions, high purity ethanol and IPA products, using high quality USP-grade purified water and WFI generation in the production process. As a sustainability-focused business, the company wanted to ensure a zero waste facility, with materials from the ethanol production processes being used for other purposes such as farming.
Building a Network of Partners
As the company set out on development of the new facility in 2019, the priorities included equipping the plant with the latest process and control technologies. As they were building the site from scratch, the company did not have any of the limitations associated with legacy plant infrastructure. Greenfield management understood that to build a plant that could meet today’s needs and be ready for future growth, an adaptable and scalable architecture would would be crucial.
In order to get insight and access to the most cutting-edge solutions, Greenfield worked closely with Alpha Automation & Control and Rockwell Automation. Rockwell technologies had already been used extensively in Greenfield’s North American facilities and had proven reliable. As a partner in Rockwell’s System Integrator Programme, Alpha had the expertise to compose the correct set of Rockwell technologies and lend valuable integration support to Greenfield. In selecting a Distributed Control System (DCS) that could serve the reliability and scalability Greenfield required, Alpha recommended PlantPAx 5.0 - the latest generation of RA’s control technology.
An Unexpected Test
The design of the plant started in January 2020 with an ambitious timeline set out for construction, civil engineering, equipment installation and operalisation. In normal circumstances, building a facility of this nature would require around 12 months, but given the strategic importance of the new facility plans were drawn to an accelerated timeline. Then, in March 2020, the world went into global lockdown, meaning the challenges involved in getting the site operational and completed by the target date intensified almost overnight.
“We had around 30 contractors on site the week that the lockdown started. We had to think on our feet about how we could keep the site open and continue our progress, all while maintaining worker safety,” said Ken Finegan, MD of Greenfield Global.
Given the urgency of supporting the Life Sciences sector during a crucial period, the original time commitment was maintained and development work was expedited. This required the team to find alternative ways of commissioning control equipment, including utilising remote commissioning and qualification and relying on remote training to get workers up to speed on using the systems.
“Our approach involved engineers and developers on both sides of the Atlantic working around the clock to get everything up and running.
“We were able to bring stakeholders in North America into the process to make sure they were involved in critical decisions. It was a huge global effort, including many different departments within Greenfield and across our network,” Ken added.