GlaxoSmithKline has started pilot testing of a wireless system of flow and pressure transmitters to try to improve the efficiency of an active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) manufacturing facility in Cork, Ireland.

The drugmaker has installed the system -supplied by Emerson Process Management – on two new water storage tanks at the plant to help it monitor water usage and hopefully allow it to cut costs.

“Water is a considerable overhead to the plant so it is important that we monitor flow rates to manage consumption, and to help identify any usage trends”, explained Emmett Martin, site services automation manager at the plant in Currabinny.

The Cork site is a strategic manufacturing plant that produces a range of bulk API for use in the formulation of GSK’s prescription drugs.

It has been gradually downsized in recent years as part of a review by GSK of its manufacturing network and changes in its product portfolio, and has been repositioned as a smaller, leaner operation focusing on key APIs such as lapatanib, used in GSK’s fast-growing Tyverb/Tykerb breast cancer treatment.

The pilot is in keeping with that trend. As the existing water storage facility at the plant was too small, the decision was taken to add capacity with new storage tanks, but also to ensure measurement instrumentation. As the tanks are sited around 300m from the main plant, a wireless system proved more cost effective than one based on wired connections.

The new system allows flow data to be transmitted every 30 seconds, and pressure and level data every 300 seconds, to a data capturing unit which is monitored by plant operators.

The new data obtained has enabled GSK to identify water usage for different areas of the plant, providing a far better understanding of the costs, and the company says it is now in a position to identify and implement process changes to increase efficiency.

The new wireless infrastructure makes it easy and cost effective to add additional measurement devices without the need for new cabling, according to Emerson, which notes GSK is already looking at expanding the existing network.

“We regard the installation of wireless very much as a two-stage process”, said Martin. “The first step is to establish a wireless network and let it prove itself over a period of time. The next step is to expand the network and use wireless whenever it is more cost effective than a wired alternative.”

“Based on a successful implementation, at some point in the future we are perhaps, looking towards a plant with no wires.”


Phil Taylor