Tuesday 15 December 2020

Benefits of Mobile HMI Workstations in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing


Benefits of Mobile HMI Workstations in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing

By Jason Maurer (Onlinestrategen / Blue Line)

With the rise in Industry 4.0, pharmaceutical manufacturing is increasingly embracing mobility and flexibility. As a result, the mobile workstation market is booming and is expected to grow even further (projected to be worth USD 100 billion by 2029), in tandem with the modular cleanroom market.1 Mobile workstations designed for demanding environments offer considerable benefit to pharmaceutical companies, at both the micro and macro levels. We will detail some of these here.

Importance of Ergonomics

Consideration of ergonomics is vital to employees’ long-term wellbeing and productivity. Poor ergonomics is considered a major factor in the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), which make up roughly a third of worker injury/illness cases2 and approximately 50% of nonfatal injury cases leading to work absence.3 MSDs have wide-ranging negative impacts on workers and companies, including decreased job satisfaction, worker turnover, prolonged sickness absences, and expensive medical claims. As implementing ergonomic interventions or utilizing ergonomically designed equipment can aid in the prevention of MSDs, pharmaceutical companies would do well to consider to what extent workers are employing ergonomically designed equipment, particularly those entrenched in already stressful work environments like cleanrooms, where movement to and from the environment must be limited to avoid contamination.


Mobile workstations are ergonomically superior to built-in units in almost every way, particularly in their flexibility. Beyond being compact enough to fit within the already economical workspaces of cleanrooms, they are easily adjustable to all heights and working positions, reducing strain on the neck, shoulders, and back3 for those who aren’t the optimal height for the built-in terminals. It also allows workers to change positions freely to avoid putting prolonged strain on any one body part. This flexibility also has psychological benefits, allowing workers greater autonomy and reducing the stress resulting from exhaustion and muscle strain, which in turn may prevent MSD symptoms. Peripherals can be stored within these workstations (see Figure 1) at a manageable height as well to ease back strain for their retrieval. 

Figure 1. HMI with swivel and tilt options

Superior Cleanability

Mobile workstations are also easier to clean than built-in workstations. Cleanroom cleaning is a key feature of air particulate control and machinery must be built to withstand the frequent and often rigorous cleaning practices to maintain particulate concentrations within the requisite limits. Their mobility and flexibility are again their primary assets here—they can be adapted to any cleaning routine, no matter the method, and they allow for much more thorough and easier cleaning than built-in workstations. They have minimal horizontal surfaces (which become dirtier much more quickly); rounded, slanted edges; and tend to have smaller overall surface areas, meaning that they can be relatively quickly cleaned even when used in critical areas (i.e., where contamination of the end product is more likely). Clients and accessories can be easily disconnected from the workstations for separate cleaning as well, minimizing the possibility of accidental harm and costly replacement.

Although these factors may seem minor, they all aid in reducing the time necessary for deep cleaning as well as minimizing the release of airborne particulates during cleaning, thereby limiting the possibility of contamination (of course, cleaning should always be done with the airflow system in full operation).

Cheaper and More Customizable

Finally, mobile workstations are overall cheaper to build and replace than are built-in HMIs. Built-in units require considerable time and technical expertise to install in cleanroom environments—they often require the cleanroom to be shut down for installation (and extensively cleaned afterwards). Installation further requires a greater degree of manpower, requiring the expertise of third-party engineers and technicians. The same is true of when a built-in unit fails. Mechanical faults in built-in units can disrupt primary operations and may be only repairable through extensive construction work. Moreover, built-in units are less suitable for modular and temporary cleanrooms given the time and expertise needed for their installation.

Materials are another factor. Cleanroom HMIs must be built of high-quality stainless steel (e.g., AISI 316L) treated with electropolishing to endure both cleaning agents and common corrosive substances in laboratories as well as ensure quick removal of contaminating bacteria and microparticles. Built-in units tend to be larger when considering mounting materials and cabling, whereas mobile workstations tend to be smaller and can incorporate plastics in their chassis and legs, with the stainless steel being used only for attached HMIs or work areas.

Mobile workstations tend to be more customizable by the user as well. They can interface with a variety of clients and can be outfitted with multiple HMIs (see Figure 2), allowing a much more seamless work experience. 

Figure 2. Mobile workstation with two attached HMIs


As cleanroom technology advances with flexibility in mind, pharmaceutical companies will increasingly turn to mobile solutions. Accordingly, they should take the time to grasp a thorough understanding of the mobile workstations available to them and the various benefits they can offer.


1. Modular Cleanroom Market 2020: Industry Growth, Competitive Analysis with Top Countries Data, Definition, Market Size, Future Prospects and Forecast to 2026. MarketWatch. Accessed December 11, 2020. https://www.marketwatch.com/press-release/modular-cleanroom-market-2020-industry-growth-competitive-analysis-with-top-countries-data-definition-market-size-future-prospects-and-forecast-to-2026-2020-11-23

2. Ergonomics. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Accessed December 11, 2020. https://www.osha.gov/ergonomics

3. Panush RS. Chapter 35 - Occupational and Recreational Musculoskeletal Disorders. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, McInnes IB, O’Dell JR, eds. Kelley and Firestein’s Textbook of Rheumatology (Tenth Edition). Elsevier; 2017:520-532. doi:10.1016/B978-0-323-31696-5.00035-8

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