Illumina Operations Team Powers On During Pandemic to Support Human Health

Kevin Pegels, Vice President, Global Supply Chain, Illumina

According to Kevin Pegels, Vice President, Global Supply Chain, Illumina, during the COVID-19 pandemic, “Employee safety remains our #1 priority.  Due to our role in making, testing, and shipping products used in healthcare, we are critical infrastructure delivering an essential service.  Our facilities in Singapore, San Diego, and Hayward and other sites around the world continue to operate to meet customer demand.”

In the COVID-19 environment, the company has leveraged best practices for maintaining operational integrity of Illumina’s global supply chain and manufacturing facilities, explained Paul Anderson, Senior Director, Clinical Operations.

Early on, Illumina initiated its crisis management plan and activated its global emergency management team (EMT) to oversee Illumina’s COVID-19 response at all locations globally.  In addition, each site has a comprehensive emergency management team to lead that site’s operations during the pandemic.  These cross-functional leadership teams have been very helpful in developing COVID-19 response policy, sharing best practices, leading data-driven decision making, communicating new information such as government imposed restrictions, and providing support to the operation.

At the company’s San Diego headquarters campus, the VP of Global Clinical Operations directs a manufacturing EMT team consisting of leaders from across the business.  This team meets regularly to review key performance indicators, discuss new issues and adapt the operating plan as required to meet any new challenges.

To protect Illumina employees from COVID-19, in March Illumina asked all employees whose roles did not require an onsite presence to work remotely.  Meanwhile, a significant number of the staff in production facilities have remained on hand in labs and on the manufacturing floor with the implementation of additional safety measures.

As a leader in genomics, Illumina remains committed to continuing its operations to serve customers who are performing critical work, both related to COVID-19 and in other areas. For example, Illumina’s sequencing instruments, reagents and test kits support the COVID-19 pandemic efforts as well as oncology and reproductive health applications for patients globally.  Because of its focus on healthcare, Illumina is designated as US federal “critical infrastructure.” As a result, after the California “stay at home” order went into effect on March 19th, its sites in the state have continued to operate because the order provides that workers may continue to work “as needed to maintain continuity of operations” of the critical infrastructure sectors.  As noted in the California governor’s order, “the supply chain must continue.”

Paul Anderson, Senior Director, Clinical Operations, Illumina

Anderson said Illumina has taken steps to maintain its high standards for employee health and safety while keeping the sites operating. These include:

  • A global response frameworkthat has directed risk-based response and mitigation measures for each site, to further minimize risk for employees and the business.  Illumina has implemented expanded cleaning protocols at its manufacturing plants and within the office spaces currently in use.  Other measures include social distancing, frequent handwashing and appropriate use of PPE required of every employee while onsite. Illumina also reinforces with employees the need to follow Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) guidance outside of work so they can stay healthy.
  • Manufacturing teams are segregated by color coded badges to minimize physical interactions, including taking breaks and meals within their designated building and team while maintaining social distancing.
  • A proactive approach to managing potential COVID-19 cases through an employee self-reporting process and contact tracing procedure.
  • Shift changeovers no longer have face-to-face overlap and instead supervisors use videoconferencing handovers. One shift exits the manufacturing area before the next shift starts.  To handle information from the prior shift to the current one, team members in separate conference rooms communicate via video conferencing.
  • The vast majority of employees are restricted to the building in which they work, and exceptions for specially designated materials management team members are reviewed by site emergency management teams.
  • Limited intermingling of functions. For example, buyers and production planners work from home rather than being present with the onsite manufacturing team.
  • Employees’ temperatures are thermally scanned, including each time they enter or re-enter a building.
  • As has always been required, employees are required to adhere to access control processes for their building, floor, or lab. Illumina’s access control system is an additional tool used in contact tracing.
  • PPE including face masks are used by employees throughout the company as appropriate per EHS guidance. In the warehouses specifically, workstation physical separation has been increased, PPE has been augmented (with gloves and masks) and the protocol for signing for shipments has been changed to contactless delivery. 
  • The global sourcing teams implemented a system to monitor suppliers and mitigate risk due to COVID-19.
  • To ensure adequate supply, the global planning team has increased the planned safety stock levels of finished goods stored in the regional distribution centers.
  • The incoming materials Quality Control (QC) teams are now split into onsite and remote teams. The onsite team does the physical inspection and records any images required for the remote QC team to assist with processing the QC results.  The onsite QC team also has increased their PPE to include face masks, gloves, and lab coats.  QC employees’ laptops are decontaminated before leaving the site with the employee.
  • If an employee needs to care for a critically ill family member or is not comfortable working onsite in this pandemic environment, he or she can apply for Illumina’s program that provides time off for compassion and care while a solution can be identified to address employee needs.

Like many life science organizations, Illumina is managing a delicate balance of employee health and productivity.  To maintain operations and ensure supply chain continuity, the company continues to evaluate its forecasts, carefully monitor its raw materials supply and staff manufacturing operations appropriately to meet the demand.

Delivering on time to customers during a pandemic is an added challenge. That’s why logistics is an area receiving a lot of focus these days.  Commercial airlines have vastly reduced their passenger schedules, which has a knock-on effect on cargo capacity.  Since the majority of Illumina sequencing reagents and test kits are stored frozen or refrigerated, shipment by air freight to the regional distribution centers is essential and so logistics alternatives must be identified on a daily basis.

Pegels explained, “We have a global transportation team that meets daily to talk about what capacity is left, pricing, top lanes that drive transportation, what we are spending.  This vigilance has paid dividends, as we shipped finished product with minimal customer disruption since the start of 2020.”

Thanks to its proactive approach, Illumina continues to focus on keeping its employees safe while ensuring supply of its industry-leading technology for customers. By a coordinated cross-functional global effort, the teams at Illumina have been able to seamlessly continue their operations and support the company’s mission to improve human health by unlocking the power of the genome.