How to Reduce Time to Market and Improve Productivity Through the Use of eLearning

Post Series: Barry

Barry Boyle – Skillpad CEO
Originally Published on the NG Pharma website

Old” Way of Training Plant Personnel

When a company builds a new plant, or adds a new line in an existing plant, the issue of training is not always at the top end of the owners’ concerns. It should be and here’s why.

There are ways to transfer knowledge nowadays using the new state-of-the-art technology called “e-learning” that can, not only save training costs and improve knowledge-transfer, but can also put a great deal more money into the pockets of the investors.

The “old” way of doing training for new plant Production and Maintenance involved a lot of steps; classroom training on the generic chemical or biotech processes during the project’s Design Phase with more classroom training during the plant construction, some visits to similar sites near the end of construction, more classroom training when technical details are better known and design is nailed down, training during the Commissioning by involvement with the Project Team and during Start-up and “Handover” from the Project Team to Operations.

The main chararteristic of this approach is that it is very fractured and much of the effort, though needed and useful at the time, is left in files or resides only in the heads of the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) who played the role of instructors in the classroom sessions or is lost and must be redone later. The redoing of training and the research for lost data is very costly to do once the plant is operating and will likely never be done as nobody has the time to do it.

Reduce Time to Market
What would happen if there was a new technology that greatly improved the investors’ ability to ship product to market quicker and reach Continuous Full Design Production sooner than has traditionally been the case? The investors would make a lot more money. There is now such a new technology called “e-learning”.

E-learning Technology is relatively new but has recently reached the market acceptance that comes at the end of a new technology’s “missionary” period, i.e. the time it takes for general acceptance because many have tried it, liked it, seen the technology improve and become reliable and the number of users has reached a critical mass.

E-learning is a tool that can present knowledge from Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in such a way that the information is both engaging and structured to suit the target audience. This greatly facilitates knowledge-transfer as well as serving as a record of the information in a format that is easily stored, modified and transmitted to all people who need it at any time and anywhere.

It is not the intent of this article to state that employees with better knowledge can get a new plant up and running sooner. This is already known. What’s different is that the new technology of e-learning makes the effort much easier and less expensive and provides considerable additional advantages. Lets examine the typical Project Cycle for a new plant in the figure below:

What would happen if there was a way to have most, or all, Operations personnel (Production and Maintenance) brought up to speed with real knowledge of the new plant’s chemical/biotech processes and associated equipment much sooner than would have traditionally been the case? The participation of these “better and earlier-trained” personnel in the Commissioning Phase would be much more effective and would lead to shorter time to the Start-up Phase and thus, earlier Handover from the Project Team to Operations resulting in shipping new product to market sooner.

Furthermore, what would happen if the relatively long time period from the end of Start-up to the attainment of Continuous Full Design Production were significantly reduced by these better-trained personnel who had, so to speak, “hit the ground running”? The shipping of product would occur much sooner than the norm and would make the investors millions more in revenue by getting to market earlier than expected.

Nothing is stopping Pharmaceutical and Biotech manufacturing companies from doing this right now and, given the difficult financial climate, bringing some good news to their investors.

There are 2 major additional advantages to the use of this new technology in new plant construction namely, Operations Training Program and Performance Improvement Program.

Operations Training Program
One of the beauties of the early knowledge-transfer approach is that the e-Lessons that were built during the design phase of the Project Cycle and were improved all during the Project Cycle and were used to Reduce Time to Market can then be used for the life of the plant as the Operations Training Program. Thus, all the early training efforts and costs are not lost but are, in fact, retained and improved and used as the regular Training Program for personnel for the life of the plant.

Performance Improvement Program
Once the Plant Operations Training Program is in place and the plant is running at its Full Design Production, its e-Lessons will become the foundation of a Performance Improvement Program. This is achieved by updating its component e-Lessons regularly with the latest information from the Maintenance and Production Departments’ personnel as they perform their duties in the plant. A major feature of e-learning technology is that updating is easy to do.

Due to the ease of updating, implicit information can be regularly added to the content of the e-Lessons. Implicit information is the experience-based data that production operators and maintenance technicians gather when doing their work. This information represents “best practice” and can be added to the e-Lessons and used to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated and that good practices are copied by all personnel and the performance gains preserved. The result is that the e-Lessons become a source of competitive advantage and a company asset. Furtermore, this constant updating leads to tangible increases in productivity as the performance improvements are put to use and the plant will gain additional production in excess of the original Full Design Production. This is demonstrated in the graph below:

How to Proceed
The challenge here is to initiate a project alongside the company’s New Plant Construction Project where this “parallel project” is a Dynamic Training Project (DTP) which will manage the training of production and maintenance personnel in 3 distinct steps, Reduce Time to Market, Operations Training Program and Performance Improvement Program which will continue for the life of the plant.

The participants in the DTP will have to possess a combination of the following 4 competences:

  • Project Management
  • Process and equipment (Pharmaceutical or Biotech) knowledge
  • State-of-the-art e-learning technologies
  • Instructional design

The parallel DTP would be under the responsibility of the Operations Department.

With the DTP Team in place at the start of the New Plant Project, the building of the foundation of all technical training for the Production and Maintenance of the new plant would be put in place for the life of the plant. Investments made at each stage would be used in the next stage so that none of the e-learning investments would be wasted.

About Barry Boyle
Graduate in Electrical Engineering has worked as an engineer in many industries for different companies including, in the late 80s and the 90s in a specialized automation engineering company, Walsh Automation, where as president, he led the organisation to become the largest such specialized company in North America.

Approximately 40% of Walsh Automation’s business in the latter years was in the Pharmaceutical and Biotech business. The company was a “project-based” organization which used automation to improve performance of operating plants by the addition of specialized automation products.

Walsh Automation was sold in 2000 to Invensys and Barry Boyle became the VP Projects for the corporation.

In 2002 Barry left Invensys to pursue the Training Business principally in the Pharmaceutical and Biotech industries. The majority share of Skillpad was purchased in 2004 by Barry who became CEO and has run the company since.

Skillpad’s main strength was the training of operators in Pharmaceutical plants – Finished Dose, API, Medical Devices and Biotech.

In the last 6 years, Biotech Training for operators and maintenance personnel and project-based custom development of e-Lessons for plant Performance Improvment have been added to the company’s strengths.

Skillpad is now doing several Reduce Time to Market and Performance Improvement Projects for different customers as well as continuing its core business of operator training.


Barry Boyle

Since Barry’s arrival in late 2004 he has been consolidating the company’s traditional business of leasing its library of compliance e-Lessons to Pharmaceutical manufacturing companies and, in late 2006, adding a new business based on his background namely, the use of e-learning to improve productivity in industrial manufacturing in 3 crucial areas:
Reduce time to market – new plant construction.
Continuous Productivity Improvement Program – ongoing operations.
Saving “baby boomer” knowledge for future operations.

This new business will show industrial manufacturing companies and their consultants/contractors how to apply e-learning as a tool to do “old” things better namely, Project Management and Plant Operations Maintenance.

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