I spoke to an engineer the other day who was involved in the design of a manufacturing cleanroom for a materials science application. This project required extremely low temperature and humidity conditions. My first question was: “Do people have to work in those spaces?”
He said: “Yes and with special gowning they can survive in this harsh environment.”
I immediately thought of a conversation with a BioPharma engineer. He said: “We’ve spent the last 25 years trying to design people out of the manufacturing process.” The prevailing thinking in the BioPharma industry was that people are unpredictable and have idiosyncratic needs that make them burdensome in cGMP spaces. With the future of the BioPharma industry being focused more on low-volume, high turn-over personalized medicines, the prevailing logic around people in (or not) the manufacturing process may have gone too far. Empowered and knowledgeable workers making real-time decisions may be the key to the TQM process, efficient change-overs and their future competitive advantage.
Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from the BioPharma industry that can be applied to Materials Science. The issue is not how people can survive in the environment, rather we should be thinking about the next generation of employees and how they can actually thrive in these highly specialized environments.