Global Pharmaceuticals Contract Manufacturer: Improving Plant Reliability

A global pharmaceuticals contract manufacturer that produces tablets for over 10 leading life science companies found that their OEE was descending. A significant cause was equipment downtime issues. With high customer delivery demands and plans for growth, reliable capacity was emerging as a key strategic focus for the business.

The flagship site, based in the UK, contributed approximately 30% of group revenue. The fraction of unplanned downtime at this site due to breakdowns was 16.5%. Maintenance was typically “fire-fighting” rather than controlled proactive interventions. Preventative maintenance was limited and 50% of historic failure modes were not reflected in maintenance procedures exposing the business to recurring failure risk. Ageing equipment, high staff turnover and a long learning curve for new recruits were also contributing to the deteriorating plant condition resulting in potential safety and contamination issues.


Oakland was engaged to rapidly increase plant reliability at the key UK site. Specific targets were a 50% decrease in breakdowns and a 50% increase in Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF).


The need for rapid benefits realisation and effective employee engagement was clear. A ‘Kaizen’ approach was therefore deployed using 1-2 week duration events, with multi-functional teams focused on single pieces of plant. Oakland’s proven ‘World Class Manufacturing’ (WCM) Kaizen methodology was tailored to focus on the priority areas for the plant:

  • Asset Care & Total Productive Maintenance (TPM)
  • Changeover quality (due to numerous engineering call outs after changeovers)

The first day of the Kaizen events covered training on aspects of WCM, with emphasis on the priority areas relevant to improving reliability. The bulk of the events were very practical, predominantly on the shop floor or in problem solving and analysis workshops. Using the insights and experience of the cross-functional teams was key to solving problems. It also engaged the staff in the improvement process, breaking them out of the reactive culture and enabling them to see the benefits of their ideas being realised.

Individuals who could be trained up in the Kaizen methodology were identified from the outset to remove on-going dependence on external support and build internal capability in the Kaizen approach. The focus during the Kaizen events was on immediate implementation of improvement actions. Unfinished or larger activities were added to an implementation plan to be managed post-event.


The project was successfully delivered on-time and within budget, achieving:

Improved Reliability:
The proportion of unplanned downtime due to breakdowns was reduced from 16.5% to 6.5% in 4 months
Planned maintenance procedures were updated using a FMEA risk based approach resulting in an increase in the frequency and depth of maintenance
Production procedures were improved including changeover procedures, fault-finding matrices, pre-flight check lists, and deep clean procedures
480 technical improvements were identified through the Kaizen events
Skills & Methods Transfer
The methodology was packaged to become a permanent way of working in the client’s organisation, to be used as required to support future improvement initiatives
individuals were fully trained in running the kaizen events for the site
Methodology ownership was transferred to the maintenance manager with two supporting improvement engineers
The methodology was also shared with the global Reliability Centre of Excellence and assessments were performed at the German and US sites to create reliability roadmaps

These achievements can be seen on the chart below, which shows the decreasing unplanned downtime as a percentage of the total run time.

Reliability chart 2

Having seen the rapid results achieved through this project, preparations were made to deploy this approach globally across the business.