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Incubator for Innovation Why Innovation is Vital for Mechanical Engineers

| Author: Anke Geipel-Kern

Innovation needs space and an optimal environment in which to develop. That’s why the Glatt Innovation Center in Binzen, Germany, is more than just a building — it’s a communication platform that is open to new people and ideas. Development Manager Jochen Thies explains more in this interview with PROCESS Worldwide.

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Total view: Part of Headquarter with Technology Center
Total view: Part of Headquarter with Technology Center
(Source: Glatt)

Jochen Thies learned how innovation works from the ground up, first through practical experience in the laboratory, and later from a conceptual perspective as Development Manager. Having trained as a mechanical engineer, he has more than 30 years of experience in pharmaceutical development and is an old hand in the industry.

Dr. Jochen Thies, Glatt: “We combine sales and distribution, service, project management, and process technology under one roof here, which allows us to establish a direct line of communication with our customers.”
Dr. Jochen Thies, Glatt: “We combine sales and distribution, service, project management, and process technology under one roof here, which allows us to establish a direct line of communication with our customers.”
(Source: Glatt)

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Today, as Head of New Technologies for Glatt in Binzen, he is more excited about technology than ever before. Over the years, a new set of questions has come to the fore, which center on people and how to ensure that your team isn’t left behind on the journey to a new innovation culture.

"Always a Cut Above the Existing Options"

He says that this is his biggest motivation, along with the mission to develop solutions for customers that are always a cut above the existing options available on the market. The GCC coater, for example, which was launched at Achema 2015, represents a considerable improvement, performing 30 % more effectively than its rivals. The developers completely redesigned the coating process:

“We wanted to make the coating process quicker and more efficient,” Thies says, explaining the goal of the redesign.

The new machine also needed to be capable of containment and suitable for CIP, and retrospectively building such features into an existing coater rarely produces satisfactory results

Bringing Technology to the Customer

The new Innovation Center, which opened at the company site in Binzen in 2016, provides further impetus and fresh ideas. Spread over 7000 m2 of floorspace, it offers everything a pharmacist could wish for. Whether it’s continuous production or batch production equipment, it is all state of the art. Batch systems can be used flexibly in granulation, pelletization, and coating processes according to requirements, from laboratory models to production-scale versions, on batches of up to 150 kg. Companies can build a modular, fully automatic process chain from a portfolio of process equipment, according to their particular requirements.

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Range of Services
Full Service Portfolio for Solid Dosage Forms
  • Feasibility studies & process optimization;
  • Concept & systems development;
  • Analysis and process support on site;
  • Access to contract development and FDA- and EMA-certified, GMP-compliant production through Glatt Pharmaceutical Services;
  • Innovative, state-of-the-art process and analysis technologies (batch and continuous);
  • Process optimization with simulation under actual conditions;
  • Process sizes from laboratory models to production-scale versions (up to 150 kg);
  • Technical inspection of the experimental area for proof of concept;
  • Inspection of CIP processes & optimization of washing processes.

The Glatt View Conti control system provides online process control and regulation as well as complete process documentation. Pharmaceutical customers can test various process variations and select the one that best suits their formulation.

Lilia Sprich, Glatt: “With all developments, the same team stays with the customer throughout the entire project. The process experts are present on site during installation and commissioning and serve as permanent points of contact for questions about processes and cleaning.“
Lilia Sprich, Glatt: “With all developments, the same team stays with the customer throughout the entire project. The process experts are present on site during installation and commissioning and serve as permanent points of contact for questions about processes and cleaning.“
(Source: Glatt)

One Face to the Customer

“We combine sales and distribution, service, project management, and process technology under one roof here, which allows us to establish a direct line of communication with our customers,” says Thies. The process experts from the Innovation Center team are in full control of all of these aspects.

“With all developments, the same team stays with the customer throughout the entire project. The process experts are present on site during installation and commissioning and serve as permanent points of contact for questions about processes and cleaning,” explains Lilia Sprich, Head of the Innovation Center.

The nationalities of the pharmaceutical customers reflect the traditionally high export rate of the Glatt portfolio — almost 90 %.

“I can’t remember the last time I spoke German in the Innovation Center,” says Thies with a smile. The length of visits varies — from a day to a week — as does the complexity of the experiments.

Interest in continuous production has grown. This includes the Modcos system, which offers individual process options from direct pressing to wet granulation thanks to its modular structure: “Currently, one third of the trials we run are continuous production trials,” says the Development Manager.

A Playground for New Developments

The Innovation Center offers a real USP within the world of Glatt, which includes bases in India and America, as Thies explains: “If customers want to completely immerse themselves in the technology, we can provide the perfect environment.”

The Innovation Center provides space and scope for experimentation in several respects: Customers come here to run experiments for feasibility studies and process optimizations, and for developments in analysis, concepts, and systems. At the same time, Thies’s large development team experiments with new solutions in the two-storey building and tests new equipment before it is introduced on the market.

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Two questions for Jochen Thies
“The Operator Wants Quick, Robust Processes”

? Mr. Thies, what future developments are possible for such a sophisticated piece of technology as the fluidized bed?

Thies: That always depends on how the fluidized bed is going to be used. If it is intended to be used as a dryer, there are completely different requirements from a fluidized bed which will be used to manufacture pellets with active ingredient layering and delayed release. For drying, handling is the most important aspect. The operator wants quick, robust processes. For the pellet process, the focus is on improving the process engineering, for example in terms of speed or coating uniformity.

? What factors are important for the market further down the line.

Thies: Not everything we develop necessarily has to offer obvious process improvements. It often makes more of a difference to customers if we can make pharmaceutical manufacturing more cost-effective and simplify systems operation.

The sales and project teams, meanwhile, benefit from the direct communication with pharmaceutical customers. Because of this, Thies actually sees the Innovation Center as a communication center as well. He believes that interdisciplinary communication between all specialists is particularly important. According to Thies, interdisciplinary experience is a recipe for success when it comes to the Glatt Group’s capacity for innovation. “It’s also important to think outside the box and pursue ideas that seem crazy at first.”

Strong Collaboration

Binzen, Weimar, Dresden, and Pratteln work together closely — an approach that Thies strongly advocates, inspired by positive examples. The Modcos system is a great example, as it involved even more intensive collaboration than usual between Weimar and Binzen. The sister company, which deals in specialty chemicals, has significant experience in continuous production, which offered tangible advantages.

Multilab, the modular all-in-one solution for all OSD processes in the laboratory, is also the result of collaboration between all the sites.

So what’s on the agenda for Thies’ future development projects? “We will definitely have a more intensive focus on our core business, fluidized beds, but there’s also still room for improvement when it comes to control systems.”

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