FUTURE-PROOF THANKS TO VIRTUALIZATION

Pharma 4.0 requires the networking of production systems. Existing systems are also future-proof thanks to virtualization. The virtualization of controllers, for example, makes it possible to get a well-running freeze drying system ready for digitalization. The advantages are not limited to old systems. Even new systems benefi t, in a number of ways.
It’s old hat to IT experts. Virtualization is always an issue when operating systems are discontinued, but the software running on them is precisely tailored to them. Virtualization enables IT to find solutions for this without much trouble. It simulates hardware functionality using software and creates virtual computer systems that are able to run together with many other applications and virtual systems on one central server. Pharmaceutical companies ignored this trend for some time. But more and more companies have become interested in this over the last three to four years. For some, it was pure necessity, for others it was a calculated move. If, for example, the defective PC, on which the existing SCADA system is used to control a machine, can no longer be replaced with a model using an equally outdated operating system due to a lack of availability, there are two viable options: Either the SCADA application must be reprogrammed. Or the old operating system must be recreated virtually – and simply continues to operate the existing SCADA application. By using superordinate IT structures, users can also lay the groundwork for the further networking of their systems.

“We used virtual machines in around 90 percent of the new automation projects we completed recently."

André Schmidt, Automation Group Leader 
at Optima Pharma
“We used virtual machines in around 90 percent of the new automation projects we completed recently."

André Schmidt, Automation Group Leader 
at Optima Pharma

Hardware-independent automation

Virtualization provides benefi ts for existing system controllers that run on PCs with discontinued operating systems. Automation Group Leader, André Schmidt, from Optima Pharma, reports: “We used virtual machines in around 90 percent of the new automation projects we completed recently. This allows operators to work independently of the hardware and provide IT support for maintenance and optimization." Schmidt has been observing this global trend for quite some time. Most European pharmaceutical manufacturers are also interested in increasing effi  ciency in this way and automating their machines and systems for the future. “However, sound IT know-how is necessary for this. Most pharmaceutical companies beyond a certain size do have this, though,” says Schmidt. In companies that are taking on the opportunities of digitalization, IT already plays a key role. It provides production departments with lasting support when networking automated structures that are at the heart of Industry 4.0. Generally speaking, this is also possible without virtualization, meaning using dedicated PCs. However, achieving the desired level of networking is easier with the virtualization of SCADA applications and the use of central server structures. Data stored on central systems is also easier for superordinate optimization systems to use. In addition, IT departments can more easily perform future moder-nization work, such as expanding storage space, without having to shut systems down. 

Virtualization of numerous freeze dryers

Optima Pharma has already virtualized numerous systems. “With the right virtualization system, this can be done in just a few days,” says André Schmidt, though he adds: “Many of our customers have different requests, such as additional software, that we must install as a result.” Or, there is not just one system, “but multiple freeze dryers at the same time for which we provided graduated virtualizations for various customers. Getting the network online and testing each individual freeze dryer naturally takes more time.” 

Does virtualization save money? First, the hardware, which is to say the server structures, must be purchased. Even licensing the virtualization software costs money. Nonetheless, savings begin to appear in just a few years when only one central server must be updated, instead of a number of computers. Centralized maintenance through IT is also much easier and thus cheaper than maintenance of individual PCs. Unplanned downtime due to defective PCs are a thing of the past.  Features like the snapshot using the virtualization software VMware, which saves the state and data of a virtual machine, can be used to immediately reboot machines in the event of an error. There is also a user- friendly solution to make sure that the application running on the virtual machine is highly available. 

And IT security? IT security must be established in virtual, centralized systems just as it is in decentralized, real ones. The centralization of IT, as desired and implemented in more and more industrial companies, presents great demands for IT security. It is normally easier to administer and establish, however. This also applies when IT is centralized or networked for different locations, as has come to be common at many pharmaceutical companies. Virtual, centralized systems are also beneficial when relocating entire production sites, which occurs quite often.

Virtualization of numerous freeze dryers

Optima Pharma has already virtualized numerous systems. “With the right virtualization system, this can be done in just a few days,” says André Schmidt, though he adds: “Many of our customers have different requests, such as additional software, that we must install as a result.” Or, there is not just one system, “but multiple freeze dryers at the same time for which we provided graduated virtualizations for various customers. Getting the network online and testing each individual freeze dryer naturally takes more time.” 

Does virtualization save money? First, the hardware, which is to say the server structures, must be purchased. Even licensing the virtualization software costs money. Nonetheless, savings begin to appear in just a few years when only one central server must be updated, instead of a number of computers. Centralized maintenance through IT is also much easier and thus cheaper than maintenance of individual PCs. Unplanned downtime due to defective PCs are a thing of the past.  Features like the snapshot using the virtualization software VMware, which saves the state and data of a virtual machine, can be used to immediately reboot machines in the event of an error. There is also a user- friendly solution to make sure that the application running on the virtual machine is highly available.
And IT security? IT security must be established in virtual, centralized systems just as it is in decentralized, real ones. The centralization of IT, as desired and implemented in more and more industrial companies, presents great demands for IT security. It is normally easier to administer and establish, however. This also applies when IT is centralized or networked for different locations, as has come to be common at many pharmaceutical companies. Virtual, centralized systems are also beneficial when relocating entire production sites, which occurs quite often.

Centralized and Future-Proof

If IT takes control, it also assumes responsibility. The operator of a freeze dryer is normally not in charge of this. After all, the core strength of its unit is not in keeping PCs running. The virtualization of the SCADA controller makes this system future-proof, even if it is already many years old. This also preserves the initial investment in the system, which continues to operate and can even benefit from digitalization in the context of Industry 4.0. For example, in the future an OEE application can more easily access and analyze data from the freeze drying process. Similar applications can be compared on the network in order to discover optimization potential. This makes data connectivity easier with respect to ERP and MES systems, and even cloud solutions. Virtualization keeps older systems ready for production and helps them to work more efficiently. Ultimately, virtualization and centralization guarantee competitiveness. 

IMPORTANT FOR YOU

  • Through virtualization, existing SCADA applica-tions can continue to be operated if the operating system of an existing PC controller is obsolete.

  • Older systems thus benefit from the use of superordinate IT structures: they are made suitable for digitalization through easier networking.

  • Virtual machines are utilized in the majority of new pharmaceutical projects.

  • Users benefit from the hardware independence and simplified implementation of high availability solutions.

  • In virtualized, centralized systems, it is easy to analyze processes as part of OEE optimization.


  • Through virtualization, existing SCADA applications can continue to be operated if the operating system of an existing PC controller is obsolete.

  • Older systems thus benefit from the use of superordinate IT structures: they are made suitable for digitalization through easier networking.

  • Virtual machines are utilized in the majority of new pharmaceutical projects.

  • Users benefit from the hardware independence and simplified implementation of high availability solutions.

  • In virtualized, centralized systems, it is easy to analyze processes as part of OEE optimization.


This report has been published in the Optima Magazin o-com pharma / lifescience 12 | 2019.

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