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GlaxoSmithKline DCS Upgrade Strengthens Infrastructure

See how the pharmaceutical maker uses a modern distributed control system to unify its environmental and building management, cut energy costs, increase data visibility and more.

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  • GSK's 30-year-old plant in Zebulon, North Carolina had a 20-year-old EMS and an aging BMS, so GSK engineers sought an upgrade solution they also could bring online without affecting required production or regulatory compliance negatively



  • Two cutovers and upgrades to PlantPAx modern DCSs successfully completed


Along with managing basic material and formulation issues, pharmaceutical manufacturers must maintain precise temperature and humidity levels. These levels are required by their validation rules and documented and inspected by the United States and other national governments from countries that sell their products.

Environmental management systems (EMS) and building management systems (BMS) typically manage these temperature, humidity and associated parameters, but these stalwart systems can wear out over time.

Aging, Obsolete Systems

For instance, the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) plant in Zebulon, North Carolina, was built in 1984 and makes 30 brands and 500 products in temperature- and humidity-controlled environments to ensure product integrity.

However, the 30-year-old plant had a 20-year-old EMS and an aging BMS, so GSK engineers sought an upgrade solution they also could bring online without affecting required production or regulatory compliance negatively.

“The old EMS was basically obsolete, and we couldn't even find people to work on it anymore,” said Jeffrey Leverton, automation engineering manager, GSK. “We were also risking big downtime to our production and potentially having to restart multiple power systems. Our infrastructure is critical to our manufacturing, but we also had multiple disparate systems, so we wanted to integrate them into one system.”

Leverton, Omar Bahader, senior application engineer at GSK, and Daniel Homan, engineering manager for industrial HVAC and central utility plants systems at Rockwell Automation, presented “Converting a Legacy BMS to a PlantPAx System” on the opening day of the Rockwell Automation Process Solutions User Group (PSUG) on November 16 before the opening of the 2015 Automation Fair® event.

In addition to upgrading its EMS and BMS without hindering production, GSK wanted to enhance its operational data, optimize production for leaner manufacturing, merge the formerly separate EMS and BMS sides, increase its energy savings, increase data visibility and access for operators and automate its restart process.

Facility Upgrade Uses Modern DCS

To those ends, the Zebulon plant implemented a validated version of the PlantPAx® modern distributed control system (DCS) from Rockwell Automation, as well as the Library for Life Sciences as its industrial building automation system.

Many of these systems are running on virtualized machines and are connected via EtherNet/IP networking to thin-client interfaces using ThinManager software.

The solutions of 105 different equipment systems at the plant were installed, including air handlers, chillers, boilers and other components. This equipment was controlled by 15 different process control units (PCUs) and includes 1,756 I/O points.

“These solutions increase operators' visibility into their processes and provide more thorough information from the BMS and EMS for better decision-making,” said Leverton. “We've also achieved automated restarts, as well as better interfacing with third-party controllers.”

Homan added that the Zebulon plant cut over its first system — its main energy management system with air handlers and chillers — in about seven days, even though it had to examine and revise wiring for several devices that were showing normally open when they were supposed to be normally closed.

“We had dry runs and powered down to make sure everything could run on the PCUs without difficulties,” said Homan.

“The second cutover wasn't as smooth because we couldn't put some devices under one loop controller, and we lost hours until we established control with a mA signal. Also, a soft starter on a condenser water pump became defective, so we had to get a variable-frequency drive from our distributor, Electric Supply & Equipment, in Greensboro, North Carolina, on the Sunday before Labor Day, and they met us at their warehouse,” Homan noted.

Successful, with More to Come

Despite these hurdles, the Zebulon plant has completed two cutovers and upgrades to PlantPAx modern DCSs successfully and already is working on several more that it will perform this year. Along with supplying PlantPAx modern DCSs and hardware, Rockwell Automation has been running three teams of support personnel at the plant, where they and GSK have built temporary test stands and conducted software factory acceptance tests (SFATs) for all the new systems and solutions before installation.

“We were able to cut the IFM cables to proper lengths to the terminal blocks installed on our back panels to the old Bailey boards and then pre-number them with the same numbers used by the existing wires, so they all matched,” Leverton added. “This gave us about 35% worth of spare I/O and allows us to keep the old Bailey devices running for now, until we cut them over later as well.”

Learn about the PlantPAx modern distributed control system (DCS) from Rockwell Automation.


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