Internal competition is part of the reality of international subsidiaries. Luc Charette, Director of Operations Management at Pfizer’s Saint-Laurent plant, explains how the facility innovates to set itself apart and attract investment from its parent company. “I see our 750-employee plant a little like a SMB,” he says. “The difference is that we have access to Pfizer’s vast technical and technological resources and its capital. However, we have to constantly improve our performance in order to stay competitive and stand out in a network that includes 61 other plants.”
The innovations put forward by the Saint-Laurent facility primarily concern business processes and production methods. “However, changing production methods is more complicated because they are strictly regulated,” explains Charette. By innovating, the plant has been able improve four aspects that are key to standing out from its competitors.
- 1. Quality. As a precondition for membership in Pfizer’s network, quality is the first criterion that the parent company look as when evaluating plants. “All too often we think quality has to mean higher prices,” notes Charrette. “But it’s not true that you have to cut corners to lower prices. It’s better to aim for maximum efficiency and avoid any waste. That’s what innovating helps us do.”
- 2. Agility. The healthcare product market is volatile and, to some degree, season in nature: the demand for cold syrup is a case in point. The Saint-Laurent plant must therefore always be ready to respond quickly to meet that demand. “We specialize in small and medium volumes,” explains Charrette. “The frequent changeovers that requires and the rigorous cleaning that goes along with them have to be done fast. We have to be very agile. By taking an innovative approach to our cleaning techniques and processes, for example, we’re better positioned to deliver products fast.”
- 3. Engagement. For Charrette, innovation stems in large part from employee engagement. “Innovation is a team effort that doesn’t come from the top, but from the bottom. To innovate, you have to train employees and get them involved in the process.” Accordingly, the entire workforce at the Saint-Laurent plant is being trained on the M1 Six Sigma method, which provides the basic tools to resolve certain problems encountered in their day-to-day work. Employees are also given time to think about how they might improve things. “We often think about the big innovations, but the little ones are just as important,” he notes. “Isn’t there a saying that drop by drop, water can wear away stone? That’s why we encourage all our employees to implement two innovative ideas a year; it goes a long way toward making sure we stay competitive.”
- 4. Production costs. Even if innovation efforts do not directly target production costs, they do have a positive impact. “In a competitive industry like ours, that is a critical issue,” states Charette. “You just have to glance at a retailer’s flyer to see it for yourself. And when our parent company compares our production costs with those of our sister plants, we look very good.”
Pfizer Canada is a subsidiary of Pfizer Inc., one of the world's leading biopharmaceutical companies. Its Saint-Laurent facility is one of just eight to specialize in healthcare products. The plant produces 450 stock-keeping units, including Advil tablets, Centrum vitamins and Robitussin syrup, which are exported to nearly 90 countries.
Pfizer Canada is a member of the consultation group created for the launch of Investissement Québec’s Manufacturing Initiative.