During the COVID-19 pandemic, K-quarantine is gaining more stature. In August, Korea’s health industry proved its status with an export in 1.757 billion dollars, surpassing that of Korea’s representative industries of shipbuilding and display.
Such achievement was obtained thanks to the timely research and development of Korea’s bio companies. They preoccupied the world’s diagnostics market as they succeeded in domestic development of COVID-19 detection kits. As the love call for K-detection kits from all over the world continued, Korea exported detection kits enough to test 56 million people in about 110 countries.
Naturally, Korea’s bio industry also received attention. SolGent is one of the companies that exhibit the potential of K-quarantine with the development of a COVID-19 detection kit that can quickly determine the presence of an infection. Bio venture company SolGent has 40 kinds of molecular diagnostic kits that diagnose infectious and genetic diseases using
PCR(Polymerase Chain Reaction)
A molecular biologic technology that performs replication
and amplification of the desired part of DNA.
technology, and develops and supplies high-quality raw materials for developing reagents and diagnostic products for basic science research. Most recently, not only human diagnosis, the company also constructed a platform for agricultural products, livestock and fisheries diagnostics (AG BIO) and provides various species identification services, where gene analysis technique is incorporated, such as rice/brown rice test, Korean beef/non-Korean beef discrimination, and ginkgo biloba sex discrimination.
Establishment of mass production system for COVID-19 detection kit
SolGent started development of its detection kit as soon as COVID-19 began to spread worldwide. After extensive research and development, SolGen obtained an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) along with KOGENEBIOTECH and Seegene in February 2020, and after that, a flood of orders for detection kits began pouring in from foreign countries in Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. But, SolGent could not produce sufficient order volume with its existing manual production method. That’s why SolGent decided to introduce the smart factory system in May 2020 and implement it to the mass production system.
Introduction of the smart factory system was promoted through the “Project to construct the smart factory system with the cooperation of large enterprises and SMEs” that was supported by the Ministry of SMEs and Startups and Samsung Electronics. The company could improve many parts of the production process with the help of Samsung Electronics, a smart factory expert mentor. As a more efficient work environment was established, such as the introduction of automated equipment, optimization of logistics flow, and reduction of errors in product management through the introduction of the barcode system, the weekly production amount increased. Also, as the tube container, which had been dependent on import, was localized, the defect rate from foreign substances in the tube containers was improved by 40%, ensuring more uniform quality.
We became equipped with the mass production system through
the construction of the smart factory system.
Based on this, the company now promotes long-term contracts with many countries.
Yoo Jae-hyeong, CEO of SolGent
Currently, SolGent supplies its detection kit to more than 57 countries including the US and its sales are expected to increase more than 10 times compared to last year thanks to the exports of the COVID-19 detection kit.
Effect of the introduction of the smart factory system at a glance
SolGent constructed an efficient work environment by establishing a smart factory system. As the company started managing the production data history, which was previously prepared manually, with the barcode system, data errors were reduced and more exact inventory tracking became possible. Also, the introduction of automated equipment reduced employee fatigue by eliminating the repetitive production processes and converting them to knowledge workers, which dramatically improved work satisfaction. Lastly, construction of a real-time monitoring system greatly improved product quality.
Errors in managing the incoming/outgoing of raw and subsidiary materials were solved through the implementation of the barcode system
In the past, incoming/outgoing data of raw and subsidiary materials were recorded manually, so real-time inventory tracking was difficult and purchases of unnecessary materials occurred frequently. In particular, data and field material information were often mismatched due to incorrect input and omissions. However, introduction of the barcode system enabled the construction of an environment where the inventory flow could be checked at a glance, detailed history could be traced, and storage location and inventory could be checked in real time thanks to the real-time management of incoming/outgoing items through tablets.
Introduction of automated equipment improved productivity and increased employee satisfaction
The five-step packaging process of container inspection, reagent dispensing, closing lids, label attachment and inspection was all conducted manually. Since the process was labor-intensive and simple repetitive work, employee fatigue was high. This influenced productivity directly and was an obstacle to corporate growth. However, this could be overcome through the introduction of automated equipment of the smart factory system. Introduction of the vision inspector and shipping machine improved productivity and employee satisfaction through personnel relocation. Not only that, development of our own container reduced the defect rate to zero-level, which enabled us to skip the container inspection stage, thereby improving process efficiency.
Construction of a temperature management system made quality management of raw materials easier
Diagnostic reagents, the raw materials of a detection kit, should be managed at –20℃. In the past, SolGent could not perform real-time temperature monitoring since it only had a freezing facility. It was difficult to prevent product defects caused by sudden equipment malfunctions and temperature changes. However, by implementing the temperature change monitoring system, storage of the diagnostic reagents became stabilized.
CEO Yoo Jae-hyeong of SolGent reports,
“Productivity has improved to the tune of 73%!”
QWhat part is most satisfactory after the construction of the smart factory system?
AOur manufacturing area based on our research facility was changed to a comfortable and efficient production facility. Our company is an in vitro diagnostic medical devices producer, and thus, we work only within the GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) facility. Although we had produced products using a standard of facility that was, to some degree, autonomous, the work processes were efficiently changed in areas we could not recognize, such as optimization of workflow, warehouse management, and the packaging process. Through the introduction of the smart factory system, we realized that construction of an efficient manufacturing environment was more effective and necessary for increasing productivity rather than additional personnel.
QWhat was the driving force for the fast decision on the smart factory system?
ASince we produced the COVID-19 detection kit, which was and remains a global issue, relevant institutions and the Ministry helped us make the decision in a short time.
While the smart factory system was promoted, 12 mentors who were smart factory experts from Samsung Electronics stayed with us for 6 weeks and provided valuable advice on constructing our smart factory system in areas such as die forging and partial automation. In addition, employees of SolGent also actively helped the introduction of the smart factory system for the purpose of increasing production volume with a sense of mission during the COVID-19 crisis.
QWhat is the ultimate goal you want to achieve through smartization?
AA primary goal is “manufacturing automation” which simplifies production flow using systematized resource management of materials. We will construct a system that can maximize work efficiency and manage all processes from production to shipment in real time through the 2nd and 3rd advancements. Also, we have a goal of becoming the world’s number one company in the detection kit industry by supplying raw materials with quality and at reasonable prices by applying software that can quickly analyze critical data.
Effect of the introduction of the smart factory system at a glance
SolGent confirmed the effect of the smart factory system introduction with a reduction of employee fatigue and increase in production volume through the creation of a more efficient work environment. The accuracy of inventory management was improved by 25% through material management using the barcode system, which allowed to reduce the mismatch errors between the actual inventory and manually acquired data and to streamline logistics by 34%. Also, the time required for label inspection and attachment was greatly reduced and this brought about an increase in productivity by 1,233%.
Field personnel from SolGent reports,
“Improved problems in the field thanks to experts from a large company.”
What was difficult during the promotion?
Converting the manufacturing facility from manual to automated processes was difficult.
We had to construct facilities that matched the production process.
But as we lacked related knowledge,
communication with the facility company was not smooth.
However, we were able to successfully construct the facility
thanks to the help of some expert mentors
in smart factory systems from Samsung Electronics.
Cha Mi-jeong, General Manager of the Production Service
What were the biggest differences after the introduction?
The biggest change was in the inventory management system.
In the past, employees manually prepared products one by one
and input to excel and checked after printing them out as documents.
That is why inventory management could not be conducted exactly.
However, since inventory management is now possible through barcodes in the field,
problems resulting from a lack of raw material inventory is now part of our past.
Go Yeong-jun, Deputy General Manager of the Product Production Team
What do you want to change in the future through smart processes?
It would be wonderful if even product planning using Big Data would become possible.
Currently, the constructed smart factory system is not related closely to our product development.
However, if production information and product data are accumulated
as the smart factory system becomes more advanced,
I expect that they can be used in product planning and development.
Sim Seon-mi, Deputy General Manager of the Research and Development 1 Team