Digital Transformation Helps Moderna Safely Deliver COVID-19 Vaccine in Record Time

A common theme across the Emerson Exchange Virtual Series has been the way software and digital technologies have helped us all deal with an unexpected and unprecedented pandemic. Wherever there is adversity, there are also innovators who step up to the challenge of delivering solutions to critical problems.

In the February keynote address, Speed to Market, Jim Nyquist, chairman of Emerson’s systems and software business, dove into these innovations, explaining that

some of the largest accomplishments came in power generation and life sciences, two industries essential to life.

Prior to COVID-19, the world had never developed, tested, and produced a vaccine in under four years, Jim said. He spoke with keynote guest Roland Smith, vice president of business and GXP systems at Moderna to discuss how today’s digital technologies allowed Moderna to accomplish the feat in under one year.

Roland shared three key factors from Moderna’s digital transformation journey that were critical for setting the stage for the company’s accomplishment.

Ahead of the curve

Roland stressed Moderna’s decision to start early to build a manufacturing site (in 2016 after the company saw its first positive clinical trial results) as a key foundational element to its success in quickly developing a COVID-19 vaccine.

Making product and manufacturing, and getting those reps and learning was a really unique capability for us to have as we responded to the COVID challenge.

Digital from day one

Another key element of Moderna’s success was the company’s decision to operate digitally from the very beginning. The company made an early decision to go all-in on a digital framework.

We tried to build a native digital manufacturing site with mature toolkits like Syncade MES and DeltaV, really building that industrialization in from the start.

Analytics drives success

Roland also stressed Moderna’s intense focus on analytics as a driver for operational excellence. The project team built advanced analytics tools into Moderna’s processes from day one, ensuring that the team would always have plenty of comprehensive, contextualized data to support all its functional areas.

Today we have almost a billion rows of data that we have learned from.

Partnering for success

From the beginning of its digital transformation journey, Moderna knew that it could increase flexibility and agility by working closely with vendor partners to get technology in front of users sooner.

Moderna applied a minimum viable product approach to process design to drive innovation. Teams would design a portion of a batch record to solve a specific operation, then would immediately put theory into action, testing those processes in a live environment. The feedback gained from those tests enabled Moderna to rapidly improve and design future batches.

This approach hinged on applying a unique design paradigm to the company’s configuration, which in turn relied on close collaboration with vendors to ensure that the system they were designing wouldn’t make data harder to pull or contextualize.

Foresight delivers results

Moderna’s unique approach to life sciences manufacturing and all-in digital technology methodology paid off. In pre-COVID manufacturing, the team:

  • Reduced cycle times from more than ten days to five or six days
  • Eliminated operations stops and starts with parallel path workflows
  • Reduced batch reviews from days to hours
  • Increased error proofing, reducing manual error rates by about 80%

A flexible and robust platform

Jim was also joined by Claudio Fayad, vice president of Emerson’s DeltaV platform, who reflected on developments in technology that have enabled speed to market. Claudio shared ways the flexibility of Emerson’s DeltaV platform and Syncade manufacturing execution system drive more innovation and more site-wide analytics to support digital transformation with

the combination of the cloud and edge and the field, which means connecting all your sensors and hardware all the way to the cloud.

Moreover, Emerson’s digital technologies such as cloud-hosted digital twins, cloud engineering, and remote virtual FAT enable greater collaboration to reduce hours, costs, and risks in projects.

There is basically not a single project today where we don’t benefit from those innovations.

To see the keynote address in its entirety, you can register and watch the Emerson Exchange Virtual Series on demand. And be sure to comment below on the unique strategies you’re using to digitize operations!

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