When process equals progress: Building blocks for biotech businesses

Posted on 06. Oct, 2011 by in Academic Departments, Annual Report, Engineering Professional Development, Issues

Frank Rath and Deven McGlenn

Frank Rath and Deven McGlenn. Photo: David Nevala.

You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know where to look,” says Engineering Professional Development Faculty Associate Frank Rath (left).

Rath is working to bring the same benefits of industrial engineering enjoyed by traditional manufacturers to the biotech industry. “It’s very fertile ground,” he says. “For the most part, scientists don’t view processes the same way that engineers do. They view what they do in the lab as more of a scientific art. The best scientists are artists. They don’t boil the business down to a defined engineered process. Going from customer contact to an actual order needs a process. Production needs to have a true, defined process.”

NeoClone is a Madison-based company that excels at producing monoclonal antibodies. Rath’s team interviewed NeoClone employees to better understand its products and processes and then formed a NeoClone team. The team identified company problem areas, helped create a flow chart, and performed an order fulfillment analysis, through which orders are followed through the company from initiation to completion.

As a result of working with Rath, NeoClone was able to better engage and initiate clients early. That helped the company reduce the time from initial contact to the launch of production on projects by almost two weeks. “We still, in some ways, followed a process like we would a research program,” says NeoClone CEO Deven McGlenn (right). “We did things a certain way because that’s always the way we’d done them—which is not uncommon in the life sciences world. However, with the critical outside look that Frank and his team brought, we were able to identify a set of measurement points that allowed us to change the process in ways that created efficiencies.”

That’s a common issue in the biotech companies Rath has worked with. Biotech manufacturers often work with complex recipes to create products. There can be days when nothing seems to work right and production withers to a halt. But by applying industrial engineering principles, Rath helps companies define materials, conditions and processes so that when something goes wrong, employees have a strategy to see through the complexity and solve the problem.UW crest

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