Inspections, Compliance, Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations
Computerized Systems in Drug Establishments (2/83)
National Center for Drugs and Biologics
Executive Director of Regional Operations
REFERENCE MATERIALS AND TRAINING AIDS FOR INVESTIGATORS
U.S. DEPT. OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICE
FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION
Division of Drug Quality Compliance (HFN-320)
Associate Director for Compliance
Office of Drugs
National Center for Drugs and Biologics
Division of Field Investigations (HFO-500)
Associate Director for Field Support
Executive Director of Regional Operations
Computers are being used in increasing numbers in the
pharmaceutical industry. As microprocessors become more
powerful, reliable, and less expensive we can expect the
proliferation of this technology, with increasing use by
even very small pharmaceutical establishments. Computer
systems are used in a wide variety of ways in a
pharmaceutical establishment, such as, maintenance of
quarantine systems for drug components, control of
significant steps in manufacturing the dosage form, control
of laboratory functions, management of warehousing and
distribution activities. Computer systems may control one
or more of these phases, either singly or as part of a
highly automated integrated complex.
The purpose of this guide is to provide the field
investigator with a framework upon which to build an
inspection of drug establishments which utilize computer
systems. This document is not intended to spell out how to
conduct a CGMP drug inspection or set forth reporting
requirements, but rather what aspects of computerized
systems to address during such inspections and suggestions
on how to address the systems.
This guide discusses some potential problem areas in
application of computer systems, provides inspectional
guidance, and includes a glossary of terms the investigator
should be aware of prior to performing the inspection.
Questions and suggestions concerning this guide should be
directed to the Manufacturing Standards and Industry Liaison
Branch, Division of Drug Quality Compliance (HFN-323),
443-5307; or the Investigations and Engineering Branch,
Division of Field Investigations (HFO-520), 443-3276.
When a computer system is first encountered in a drug
establishment, it may be useful for inspectional purposes to
begin with a broad overview of the system(s). Determine
exactly what processes and functions are under computer
control or monitoring and which are not. Computer
involvement may be much more limited than it may initially
appear. For example, computer application may be limited to
control of a sterilization cycle in a single autoclave, or
maintenance of distribution records.
For each drug process under computer control determine the
general system loop (sensors, central processor, activator).
For example, the general system loop for a steam autoclave
under computer control could consist of temperature/pressure
sensors connected to a microprocessor which transmits
commands to steam/vacuum control valves.
The overview should enable the investigator to identify
those computer controlled processes which are most critical
to drug product quality. These are the systems which, of
course, merit closer inspection.
For each significant computerized system, it may be helpful
to prepare or oed schematic drawing of the
attendant hardware. The drawing need only include major
input devices, output devices, signal converters, central
processing unit, distribution systems, significant
peripheral devices and how they are linked. Figure 1 is an
example of such a drawing.
Hardware Suppliers. During the inspection identify the
manufacturers/suppliers of important computer hardware,
including the make and model designations where possible.
Hardware to identify this way includes CPUs, disk/tape
devices, CRTs, printers, and signal converters. Proper
identification of hardware will enable further follow-up at
computer vendors should that be needed.
1. Input Devices. Equipment which translates
external information into electrical pulses which
the computer can understand. Examples are
thermocouples, flow meters, load cells, pH meters,
pressure gauges, control panels, and operator
keyboards. Examples of functions are:
a) Thermocouple provides temperature input for
calculation of F value in a sterilizer.
b) Flow meter provides volume of liquid
component going into a mixing tank.
c) Operator keyboard used to enter autoclave
load pattern number.
2. Output Devices. Equipment which receives
electrical pulses from the computer and either
causes an action to occur, generally in
controlling the manufacturing process, or
passively records data. Examples are valves,
switches, motors, solenoids, cathode ray tubes
(CRTs), printers, and alarms. Examples of
a) Solenoid activates the impeller of a mixer.
b) Valve controls the amount of steam delivered
to a sterilizer.
c) Printer records significant events during
d) Alarm (buzzer, bell, light, etc.) sounds when
temperature in a holding tank drops below
Most active output devices will be in proximity to
the drug processing equipment under control, but
not necessarily close to the CPU. Passive output
devices, however, may well be remote from the
process or the CPU.
3. Signal Converters. Many input and output devices
operate by issuing/receiving electrical signals
which are in analog form. These analog signals
must be converted to digital signals for use by
the computer; conversely, digital signals from the
computer must be converted into analog signals for
use by analog devices. To accomplish this, signal
converter devices are used.
4. Central Processing Unit (CPU). This is the
controller containing the logic circuitry of a
computer system which conducts electronic
switching. Logic circuits consist of three basic
sections - memory, arithmetic, and control. The
CPU receives electrical pulses from input devices
and can send electrical pulses to output devices.
It operates from input or memory instructions.
Examples and functions are:
a) Programmable controllers can be used for
relays, timers and counters.
b) Microprocessors can be used for controlling a
steam valve, maintaining pH, etc. They
consist of a single integrated circuit on a
chip. This is the logic circuit of a
microcomputer and microprocessors are often
the same as a microcomputer.
c) Microcomputers and minicomputers can be used
to control a sterilization cycle, keep
records, run test programs, perform lab data
d) Mainframe computers are usually used to
coordinate an entire plant, such as
environment, production, records, and
The distinction between CPUs is becoming less
apparent with miniaturization of parts, CPUs are
generally ranked by size from "large" mainframes
to desk top microcomputers.
5. Distribution System. The interconnection of two
or more computers. Also known as distributed
processing. Generally, each computer is capable
of independent operation but is connected to other
computers in order to have a back-up system, to
receive operating orders and to relay what is
executed by other computers. Typical of such
distribution systems is the linkage of smaller or
less powerful units to larger or more powerful
units. For example, a minicomputer may command
and communicate with several microcomputers. A
large CPU may also act as a "host" for one or more
other CPU's. When such systems are encountered
during an inspection, it is important to know the
configuration of the system and exactly what
commands and information can be relayed amongst
the computers. Figure 2 contains examples of
Networks are generally extensions of distributed
processing. They typically consist of connections
between complete computer systems which are
geographically distant. Potentially,
pharmaceutical companies could have international
networks by using modems and satellites.
6. Peripheral Devices. All computer associated
devices external to the CPU can be considered
peripheral devices. This includes the previously
discussed input and output devices. Many
peripheral devices can be both input and output,
they are commonly known as I/O devices. These
include CRTs, printers, keyboards, disk drives,
modems, and tape drives.
B. Key Points
1. Location. Three potential problems have been
identified with location of CPUs and peripheral
devices. These are:
a) Hostile Environments. Environmental extremes
of temperature, humidity, static, dust,
power feed line voltage fluctuations, and
electromagnetic interference should be
avoided. Such conditions may be common in
certain pharmaceutical operations and the
investigator should be alert to locating
sensitive hardware in such areas.
Environmental safeguards maybe necessary to
ensure proper operation. There are numerous
items on the market (such as line voltage
monitors/controllers and anti-static floor
mats) designated to obviate such problems.
Physical security is also a consideration in
protecting computer hardware from damage; for
example, books and bottles of reagents should
not be stored on top of microprocessors.
Likewise eating, drinking and smoking should
be restricted in rooms housing mainframes.
b) Excessive Distances between CPU and
Peripheral Devices. Excessively long low
voltage electrical lines from input devices
to the CPU are vulnerable to electromagnetic
interference. This may result in inaccurate
or distorted input data to the computer.
Therefore, peripheral devices
located as near to the CPU as practical and
the lines should be shielded from such
sources of electromagnetic interference as
electrical power lines, motors, and
fluorescent lighting fixtures. In a
particularly "noisy" electronic environment
this problem might be solved by the use of
fiber optic lines to convey digital signals.
c) Proximity of Input Devices to Drug
Processing. Input devices which are remote
from (out of visual range of) the drug
processing equipment are sometimes met with
poor employee acceptance.
2. Signal Conversion. Proper analog/digital signal
conversion is important if the computer system is
to function accurately. Poor signal conversion
can cause interface problems. For example, an
input sensor may be feeding an accurate analog
reading to a signal converter, but a faulty signal
converter may be sending the CPU an inappropriate
3. I/O Device Operation. The accuracy and
performance of these devices are vital to the
proper operation of the computer system. Improper
inputs from thermocouples, pressure gauges, etc.,
can compromise the most sophisticated
microprocessor controlled sterilizer. These
sensors should be systematically calibrated and
checked for accurate signal outputs.
4. Command Over-rides. In distributed systems it is
important to know how errors and command
over-rides at one computer are related to
operations at another computer in the system. For
example, if each of three interconnected
microcomputers runs one of the three sterilizers,
can a command entered at one unit inadvertently
alter the sterilization cycle of a sterilizer
under the control of a different microcomputer on
the line? Can output data from one unit be
incorrectly processed by another unit? The limits
on information and command for
distributed system should be clearly established
by the firm.
5. Maintenance. Computer systems usually require a
minimum of complex maintenance. Electronic
circuit boards, for example, are usually easily
replaced and cleaning may be limited to dust
removal. Diagnostic software is usually available
from the vendor to check computer performance and
isolate defective integrated circuits.
Maintenance procedures should be stated in the
firm's standard operating procedures. The
availability of spare parts and access to
qualified service personnel are important to the
operation of the maintenance program.
C. Validation of Hardware
The suitability of computer hardware for the tasks
assigned to pharmaceutical production must be
demonstrated through appropriate tests and challenges.
The depth and scope of hardware validation will depend
upon the complexity of the system and its potential
affect on drug quality.
The validation program need not be elaborate but should
be sufficient to support a high degree of confidence
that the system will consistently do what it is
supposed to do. In considering hardware validation the
following points should be addressed:
1. Does the capacity of the hardware match its
assigned function? For example, in a firm using a
computer system to maintain its labeling text,
including foreign language labeling, do the CRT
and printer have the capacity to write foreign
language accent marks?
2. Have operational limits been identified and
considered in establishing production procedures?
For example, a computer's memory and connector
input ports may limit the number of thermocouples
a computer can monitor. These limits should be
identified in the firm's standard operating
3. Have test conditions simulated "worst case"
production conditions? A computer may function
well under minimal production stress (as in
vendor's controlled environment) but falter under
high stresses of equipment speed, data input
overload or frequent or continuous multi-shift use
(and a harsh environment). Therefore, it is
insufficient to test computer hardware for proper
operation during a one hour interval, when the
system will be called upon in worst case
conditions to run continuously for 14 days at a
time. Some firms may test the circuits of a
computer by "feeding" it electrical signals from a
signal simulator. The simulator sends out
voltages which are designed to correspond to
voltages normally transmitted by input devices.
When simulators are connected to the computer, the
program should be executed as if the emulated
input devices were actually connected. These
signal simulators can be useful tools for
validation; however, they may not pose worse case
conditions and their accuracy in mimicking input
device performance should be established. In
addition, validation runs should be accomplished
on line using actual input devices. Signal
simulators can also be used to train employees on
computer operations without actually using
4. Have hardware tests been repeated enough times to
assure a reasonable measure of reproducibility and
consistency? In general, at least three test runs
should be made to cover different operating
conditions. If test results are widely divergent
they may indicate an out of control state.
5. Has the validation program been thoroughly
documented? Documentation should include a
validation protocol and test results which are
specific and meaningful in relation to the
attribute being tested. For example, if a
printer's reliability is being tested it would be
insuess the results merely as
"passes," in the absence of other qualifying data
such as printing speeds, duration of printing, and
the number of input feeds to the printing devices.
6. Are systems in place to initiate revalidation when
significant changes are made? Revalidation is
indicated, for example, when a major piece of
equipment such a circuit board or an entire CPU is
replaced. In some instances identical hardware
replacements may adequately be tested by the use
of diagnostic programs available from the vendor.
In other cases, as when different models of
hardware are introduced, more extensive testing
under worst case production conditions, is
Much of the hardware validation may be performed
by the computer vendor. However, the ultimate
responsibility for suitability of equipment used
in drug processing rests with the pharmaceutical
manufacturer. Hardware validation data and
protocols should be kept at the drug
manufacturer's facility. When validation
information is produced by an outside firm, such
as the computer vendor, the records maintained by
the drug establishment need not be all inclusive
of voluminous test data; however, such records
should be reasonably complete (including general
results and protocols) to allow the drug
manufacturer to assess the adequacy of the
validation. A mere certification of suitability
from the vendor, for example, is inadequate.
Software is the term used to describe the total set of
programs used by a computer. These programs exist at
different language levels, generally the higher the level,
the closer the text is to human language. These levels are
set forth below. During the inspection identify key
computer programs used by the firm. Of particular
importance are those programs which control and document
dosage form production and laboratory testing. Usually a
firm can readily list the names of such programs on a CRT
display or in hard copy. Such a list is sometimes called a
menu or main menu.
1. Machine Language. This laof coded
instructions, represented by binary numbers, which
are executed directly by the computer.
2. Assembly Language. Instructions are represented
by alphanumeric abbreviations. These programs
must be converted into machine language, sometimes
called "object programs," before they can be
executed. Programs which translate assembly
programs to object programs are called assemblers.
Different computers have different assembly
languages. Computer manufacturers usually provide
the assembler program.
3. High Level Language. This language is
characterized by a vocabulary of English words and
mathematical symbols. These are source programs
which must be translated by a compiler or
interpreter into an object program. High level
languages generally operate the same on any
computer which accepts the language although there
may be different versions of the same language.
Examples are FORTRAN, BASIC, and COBOL.
4. Application Language. This is generally based on
a high level language but modified for a specific
industry application and uses the vocabulary of
that industry. Examples are AUTRAN (Control Data
Corporation) and Foxboro Process Basic.
B. Software Identification
For the key computer programs used by a firm, the
following items should be identified:
1. Language. High level or application name should
be determined (or machine or assembly language).
2. Name. Programs are usually named with some
relationship to what they do, i.e. Production
Initiation, Batch History Transfer or Alarms.
3. Function. Determine what the purpose of the
program is, i.e., start production, record and
print alarms, or calculate F.
4. Input. Determine inputs, such as thermocouple
signals, timer, or analytical test results.
5. Output. Determine what outputs the program
generates. These may be a form of mechanical
action (valve actuation) or recorded data
(generation of batch records).
6. Fixed Setpoint. This is the desired value of a
process variable which cannot be changed by the
operator during execution. Determine major fixed
setpoints, such as desired time/temperature curve,
desired pH, etc. Time may also be used as a set
point to stop the process to allow the operator to
interact with the processing.
7. Variable Set point. This is the desired value of
a process variable which may change from run to
run and must usually be entered by the operator.
For example, entering one of several sterilizer
load patterns into a sterilization computer
8. Edits. A program may be written in such a manner
as to reject or alter certain input or output
information which does not conform to some
pre-determined criterion or otherwise fall within
certain pre-established limits. This is an edit
and it can be a useful way of minimizing errors;
for example, if a certain piece of input data must
consist of a four character number, program edits
can be used to reject erroneous entry of a five
character number or four characters comprised of
both numbers and letters. On the other hand,
edits can also be used to falsify information and
give the erroneous impression that a process is
under control; for example, a program output edit
may add a spurious "correction" factor to F values
which fall outside of the pre-established limits,
thus turning an unacceptable value into an
ue. It is, therefore, important
to attempt to identify such significant program
edits during the inspection, whenever possible.
Sometimes such edits can manifest themselves in
unusually consistent input/output information.
9. Input manipulation. Determine how a program is
set up to handle input data. For example,
determine what equations are used as the basis for
calculations in a program. When a process is under
computer control determine, in simplified form
such as a flow chart, how input is handled to
accomplish the various steps in the process. This
does not mean that a copy of the computer program
itself needs to be reviewed. However, before
computerized control can be applied to a
pharmaceutical process there usually needs to be
some source document, written in English, setting
forth in logical steps what needs to be done; it
would be useful to review such a document in
evaluating the adequacy of conversion from manual
to computerized processing.
10. Program Over-rides. A program may be such that
the sequence of program events or program edits
can be over-ridden by the operator. For example,
a process controlling program may cause a mixer to
stop when the mixer's contents reach a
predetermined temperature. The program may
prevent the mixer from resuming activity until the
temperature has dropped back to the established
point. However, the same program may allow an
operator to over-ride the stop and reactivate the
mixer even at a temperature which exceeds the
program limit. It is therefore important to know
what over-rides are allowed, and if they conflict
with the firm's SOP.
C. Key Points
1. Software Development. During the inspection
determine if the computer programs used by the
firm have been purchased as "canned" from outside
vendors, developed within the firm, prepared on a
customized basis by a software producer, or some
combination of these sourams are
highly specialized and may be licensed to
pharmaceutical establishments. If the programs
used by the firm are purchased or developed by
outside vendors determine which firms prepared the
In some cases "canned" or customized programs may
contain segments (such as complex algorithms)
which are proprietary to their authors and which
cannot normally be readily retrieved in program
code without executing complex code breaking
schemes. In these cases the buyer must accept on
faith that the software will perform properly. If
the drug manufacturer is using such a program to
control or monitor a significant process,
determine what steps the firm has taken to assure
itself that such program blind spots do not
compromise the program performance.
Where drug firms develop their own application
programs, review the firm's documentation of the
approval process. This approval process should be
addressed in the firm's SOP. It may be useful to
review the firm's source (English) documents which
formed the basis of the programs.
2. Software Security. Determine how the firm
prevents unauthorized program changes and how data
are secure from alteration, inadvertent erasures,
or loss (21 CFR 211.68). Some computers can only
be operated in a programming mode when two keys
are used to unlock an appropriate device. When
this security method is used, determine how use of
keys is restricted. Another way of achieving
program security is the use of ROM (read only
memory), PROM (programmable read only memory), or
EPROM (erasable programmable read only memory)
modules within the computer to "permanently" store
programs. Usually, specialized equipment separate
from the computer is needed to change an EPROM or
establish a program in PROM so that changes would
not be made by the operator. A program in EPROM
is erase the module (which has a
quartz window) to ultraviolet light. In these
cases a program is secure to the extent it can't
be over-ridden by the operator. Determine who in
the firm has the ability and/or is authorized to
write, alter or have access to programs. The
firm's security procedures should be in writing.
Security should also extend to devices used to
store programs, such as tapes, disks and magnetic
strip cards. Determine if accountability is
maintained for these devices and if access to them
is limited. For instance, magnetic strip cards
containing a program to run a sterilization cycle
may be kept in a locked cabinet and issued to
operators on a charge-out basis with return of the
card immediately after it is used.
D. Validation of Software
It is vital that a firm have assurance that computer
programs, especially those that control manufacturing
processing, will consistently perform as they are
supposed to within pre-established operational limits.
Determine who conducted software validation and how key
programs were tested. In considering software
validation the following points should be addressed:
1. Does the program match the assigned operational
function? For example, if a program is assigned
to generate batch records then it should account
for the maximum number of different lots of each
component that might be used in the formulation.
Consider what might happen when three lots of a
component are used with a program designed to
record lot designations and quantities for up to
two different lots of each component. The first
lot may be accurately recorded, but the next two
lots might be recorded as a single quantity having
the second lot designation; the resultant computer
generated record therefore would fail to show the
use of three different lots and the quantities of
each of the second and third lots going into the
2. Have test conditions simulated "worst case"
production limits? A program should be tested,
for example, under the most challenging conditions
of process speed, data volume and frequency. Date
should be considered in this aspect of
validation. For example, the number of characters
allowed for a lot number should be large enough to
accommodate the longest lot number system that
will be used.
3. Have tests been repeated enough times to assure
consistent reliable results? Divergent results
from replicate data entries may signify a program
bug. In general, at least three separate runs
should be made.
4. Has the software validation been thoroughly
documented? Documentation should include a
testing protocol and test results which are
meaningful and specific to the attribute being
tested; individuals who reviewed and approved the
validation should be identified in the
5. Are systems in place to initiate revalidation when
program changes are made? If process parameters
such as time/temperature, sequence of program
steps, or data editing/handling are changed then
revalidation is indicated.
Although much of the software validation may be
accomplished by outside firms, such as computer or
software vendors, the ultimate responsibility for
program suitability rests with the pharmaceutical
manufacturer. Records of software validation should be
maintained by the drug establishment, although when
conducted by outside experts such records need not be
voluminous but rather complete enough (including
protocols and general results) to allow the drug
manufacturer to assess the adequacy of the validation.
Mere vendor certification of software suitability is
inadequate. Signal simulators many be used in software
validation. These are discussed in point No. 3 of
Validation of Hardware.
V. COMPUTERIZED OPERATIONS
If the firm is on a computer network it is important to
know: (1) what output, such as batch production
records, is sent to other parts of the network; (2)
what kinds of input (instructions, programs) are
received; (3) the identity and location fo establishments
which interact with the firm; (4)the
extent and nature of monitoring and controlling
activities exercised by remote on-net establishments;
and (5) what security measures are used to prevent
unauthorized entry into the network and possible drug
It is possible under a computer network for
manufacturing operations conducted in one part of the
country to be documented in batch records on a
real-time basis in some other part of the country.
Such records must be immediately retrievable from the
computer network at the establishment where the
activity took place (21 CFR 211.180).
B. Manual Back-up Systems
Functions controlled by computer systems can generally
also be controlled by parallel manual back-up systems.
During the inspection determine what functions can be
manually controlled and identify manual back-up
devices. Process controls are particularly important.
Determine the interaction of manual and computerized
process controls and the degree to which manual
intervention can over-ride or defeat the computerized
process. The firm's SOP should describe what manual
over-rides are allowed, who may execute them, how and
under what circumstances. Determine if and how manual
interventions are documented; a separate log may be
kept of such interventions. The computer system may be
such that it detects, reacts to and automatically
records manual interventions and this should be
addressed during the inspection.
C. Input/Output Checks
Section 211.68 of the CGMP regulations requires that
input to and output from the computer system be checked
for accuracy. While this does not mean that every bit
of input and output need be checked it does mean that
checking must be sufficient to provide a high degree of
assurance that input and output are, in fact, accurate.
In this regard theome reasonable
judgment as to the extent and frequency of checking
based upon a variety of factors such as the complexity
of the computer systems. The right kinds of input
edits, for example, could mitigate the need for
During the inspection determine the degree and nature
of input/output checks and the use of edits and other
Input/output error handling has been a problem in
computer systems. Determine the firm's error handling
procedures including documentation, error verification,
correction verification, and allowed error over-rides
including documentation of over-rides.
As an illustration of inadequate input/output checks
and error handling consider the situation of a firm
which uses a computer system to maintain and revise
labeling text. Master labeling is recorded on a disk
and when a change is to be made the operator calls up a
copy of the text from the master disk onto a CRT. The
copy is then revised at the CRT, printed on paper and
electronically printed onto another disk for storage
until the paper copy is proofread and approved; once
the paper copy is approved, the text on the temporary
storage disk is transferred to the master disk
replacing the previous text. As an example, the
operator calls up a label to change the directions for
use section, correctly makes the change but
accidentally erases the quantity of content statement
that read 100 ml. The operator "corrects" this error
by re-entering what was believed to be the correct
statement but what, in fact, was "150 ml." The
proof-readers do not detect this error because their
standard operating procedure is to proof only those
portions of the labeling-in this case directions for
use-which were supposed to be changed (a case of
inadequate output check). In addition, the operator
does not document the error or the "correction" and the
"correction" is not verified. This would probably
result product. Section 211.68 of the
CGMP regulations also requires maintenance of accurate
back-up files of input data which are secure from
alteration, loss or inadvertent erasure. These back-up
files need not be on paper, however. They may, for
instance, consist of duplicate tapes, disks or
microfilm. During the inspection determine if the firm
has such a back-up system, the form of such a system,
and how it is protected. If a back up file is printed
on thermal paper note if older files have faded. (It
has been reported that the printing on thermal paper
has a tendency to fade with time.)
D. Process Documentation
Most computer systems are capable of generating
accurate and detailed documentation of the drug process
under computer control. What is important is that
records within the scope of the CGMP regulations, which
happen to be in computerized form, do contain all of
the information required. For example, if batch
production records are generated by computer determine
if they contain all of the information required to be
in batch records.
E. Monitoring of Computerized Operations
Determine the degree to which the firm's personnel
monitor computerized operations. Is such monitoring
continuous or periodic? What functions are monitored?
For example, a firm's computer system may be used to
maintain the pH in a reaction vessel, but if the firm
does not sufficiently monitor the system they may fail
to detect a hardware problem which could allow the pH
to be out of tolerance. During the inspection, where
possible, spot-check computer operations such as:
1. Calculations; compare manual calculations of input
data with the automated calculations or ask the
firm to process a given set of input values and
compare automated results against known results.
2. Input recording; compare sensor indications with
what the computer indicates, for example. As
mentioned previously, some analog signals may be
incorrectly converted to digital signals and
built-in programming edits may alter input data.
For example, a thermocouple indicating 80øC may
read out on a CRT as 100øC or any other
temperature if the signal con malfunctioning.
3. Component quarantine control; for example, check
the actual warehouse location of a particular lot
against its location as reported by computer. If
the computer indicates that a particular lot has
passed a certain number of laboratory tests then
the laboratory records may be checked to confirm
the computer information.
4. Timekeeping; where computers are reporting events
and controlling a process in real time, spot-check
the time accuracy against a separate time piece;
accurate timekeeping is especially important where
time is a determinative or limiting factor in a
process such as sterilization. It should be noted
that some computer systems run on a 12 hour clock
whereas others run on a 24 hour clock.
5. Automated cleaning in-place; determine the
procedure used, how the firm assures adequacy of
cleaning, and residue elimination.
6. Tailings accountability; where batches are
produced back to back on a continuous basis under
computer control are batch tailings accounted for
in subsequent handling and formulation? For
example, at the conclusion of a run the computer's
memory may be downloaded and the controlling
program reset. At an initial step the computer
may call for a programmed quantity of material to
be added to a hopper; the amount to be added can
be based upon the tare weight of an empty hopper.
However, if the hopper is not, in fact, empty but
contains tailings of a prior run the result may be
a hopper with more material than called for in the
batch formulation; thus, there may be errors of
yield reconciliation or batch formulation. During
the inspection determine what limits if any the
firm places on tailings.
A typical computer system er of
built-in alarms to alert personnel to some
out-of-limits situation or malfunction. Determine what
functions are linked to alarms. For example, alarms
may be linked to power supply devices, feedback signals
to confirm execution of commands, and pharmaceutical
process conditions such as empty or overflowing tanks.
Determine the alarm thresholds for critical process
conditions and whether or not such thresholds can be
changed by the operator. For example, if the
temperature of water in a water for injection system is
linked to an alarm which sounds when the temperature
drops below 80øC, can the operator change the threshold
Determine how the firm responds when an alarm is
activated. This should be covered in the firm's
standard operating procedures.
Determine the types of alarms (lights, buzzers,
whistles, etc.) and how the firm assures their proper
performance. Are they tested periodically and equipped
with in-line monitoring lights to show they are ready?
Because an activated alarm may signal a significant out
of control situation it is important that such alarm
activations are documented. Determine how alarm
soundings are documented-in batch records, in separate
logs or automatic electronic recording, for instance.
Can all alarm conditions be displayed simultaneously or
must they be displayed and responded to consecutively?
If an employee is monitoring a CRT display covering one
phase of the operation will that display alert the
employee to an alarm condition at a different phase?
If so, how?
G. Shutdown Recovery
How a computer controlled process is handled in the
event of computer shutdown (e.g. power failure) is
significant and can pose a problem. Shutdown recovery
procedures are not uniform in the industry. Some
systems, for example, must be restarted from the
initial step in the process sequence and memory of what
has transpired is lost. Other systems have safeguards
whereby memory is retained and the process is resumed
at the point Determine the
disposition of the computer's memory content (program
and data) upon computer shutdown.
Determine the firm's shutdown recovery procedure and
whether or not, in the event of computer failure, the
process is brought into a "safe" condition to protect
the product. Determine such safeguards and how they
are implemented. Where is the point of restart in the
cycle--at the initial step, a random step or the point
of shutdown? Look for the inappropriate duplication of
steps in the resumption of the process.
The time it takes to resume a computerized process or
switch to manual processing can be critical, especially
where failure to maintain process conditions for a set
time (e.g. pH control for antibiotic fermentation)
compromises product integrity. Therefore, note
recovery time for delay-sensitive processes and
investigate instances where excessive delays compromise
product quality or where established time limits (21
CFR 211.111) are exceeded.
Many systems have the ability to be run manually in the
event of computer shutdown. It is important that such
back-up manual systems provide adequate process control
and documentation. Determine if back-up manual
controls (valves, gates, etc.) are sufficient to
operate the process and if employees are familiar with
their operation. Records of manual operations may be
less detailed, incomplete, and prone to error, compared
to computerized documentation, especially when they are
seldom exercised. Therefore, determine how manual
operations are documented and if the information
recorded manually conforms with CGMP requirements.
VI. CGMP GUIDANCE
In general, the hardware of a computer system is
considered to be equipment within the meaning of the
CGMP regulations. Therefore those sections of the
regulations which address equipment apply to hardware.
For example, the following apply:
1. 21 CFR 211.63 repment be suitably
located to facilitate operations for the
equipment's intended use.
2. 21 CFR 211.67 requires a maintenance program for
3. 21 CFR 211.68(a) states that computers may be used
and requires a calibration program.
In general, software is regarded as records or standard
operating procedures (instructions) within the meaning
of the CGMP regulations and the corresponding sections
of the CGMP regulations apply, for example:
1. Record Controls. 21 CFR 211.68(b) requires
programs to ensure accuracy and security of
computer inputs, outputs, and data.
2. Record Access. 21 CFR 211.180(c) states that
records required by the regulations shall be
available as part of an authorized inspection at
the establishment for inspection and are subject
to reproduction. Computer records retrievable
from a remote location are acceptable.
In considering the copying of electronic records
however, the act of copying must be reasonable, as
the word reasonable is used in the FD& C Act to
limit how we may conduct inspections. In some
cases it may be reasonable to copy a disk or tape
whereas in other cases it might not, particularly
where we would have to physically remove the disk
or tape from the establishment in order to copy
it. (Consider the analogy of removing an entire
file cabinet so that we can copy five pieces of
paper.) We believe that, rather than copy an
entire disk or tape ourselves, it is preferable to
have the firm generate hard copies of only those
portions of the disk or tape which we need to
3. Record Medium. 21 CFR 211.180(d) states that
retained records may be originals or true copies
and, when necessary, ocopying
equipment shall be available. This concept
applies to magnetic tape and disks.
4. Record Retention. 21 CFR 211.180(a) states record
retention requirements. They are the same for
electronic media and paper.
5. Computer Programs. FD& C Act. Section 704(a),
for prescription drug products, would allow
inspectional access to computer programs if such
inspection is performed within the constraint of
There are several factors which must be considered
on a case by case basis in determining what is
reasonable in accessing a firm's computer. For
example, the effect on drug production is a
factor; specifically, if the process of running a
program disrupts drug production in an adverse
manner then that would be unreasonable. Another
factor is whether or not our manipulations give us
access to unauthorized information; the data we
may be searching with a program may contain some
information we are not entitled to review such as
financial data. Consider also that some computer
programs are protected by copyright and carefully
licensed to software users; thus, we would not be
able to copy and use such programs without prior
approval of their owners.
6. Record Review. 21 CFR 211.180(e) states that
where appropriate records associated with every
batch shall be reviewed as part of a periodic
review of quality standards. It is acceptable for
a firm to conduct part of the review by running a
computer program which culls out analytical data
from each batch and conducts trend analysis to
determine the need to change product
specifications, manufacturing methods, or control
prata itself must be meaningful
(i.e., specified and relevant to enable an
evaluation to be performed). It is not necessary
to review each and every bit of information on the
batch record. However, the computerized trend
analysis data would constitute only a portion of
the data which must be reviewed. A review must
also be made of records of complaints, recalls,
returned or salvaged products, and investigations
of unexpected production discrepancies (e.g.,
yield reconciliations) and any failures of batches
to meet their specifications. This information is
usually separate from conventional batch records
and so would not necessarily be reviewed by the
trend analysis program.
7. QC Record Review. 21 CFR 211.192 requires the
quality control unit to review and approve
production and control records prior to batch
release/distribution. If this record screening
review (to check errors and anomalies) is
computerized and is at least as comprehensive and
accurate as a manual review, then it is acceptable
for the QC unit to review a computer generated
exception report as part of the batch release.
The batch record information required by the
regulation must still be retained. It is also
important that the accuracy and reliability of the
screening program be demonstrated. It is unlikely
however, that all production and control records
will be computerized; labeling, packaging, and
analytical records may still be in manual form and
would therefore be manually reviewed.
8. Double Check on Computer. 21 CFR 211.101(d)
requires verification by a second person for
components added to a batch. A single check
automated system is acceptable if it provides at
least the same assurance of freedom from errors as
a double check. If it does provide the same
assurance then we would gain nothing in applying a
redundant second check which adds nothing to
assuring product quality. The equivalency of an
automated single check system to a manual
check must be shown, however, and this might not
always be possible. For example, let's say 5
kilograms of a coarse white granular component
must be added to a mixture. Two individuals
checking the operation may check for the
component's label accuracy, color and granularity,
weight and finally the actual transfer of the
material; if there were a mix-up prior to that
transfer and a different component, say a white
powder, was staged for addition to the batch it is
probable that the double check screening would
detect the error. On the other hand, a single
check computer system might accurately check the
component weight and physical transfer but not its
granularity or other sign of identification. In
this case the automated single check would not be
as good as the manual double check.
9. Documentation. 21 CFR 211.188(b) (11) requires
that batch production and control records include
identification of each person who conducts,
supervises or checks each significant step in the
process. The intent is to assure that each step
was, in fact, performed and that there is some
record to show this, from which the history of the
lot could be traced. It is quite possible that an
automated system can achieve the same, or higher,
level of assurance in which case it may not be
necessary to have persons document the performance
of each event in a series of unbranched automated
events on the production line. For example, let
us say an automated/computerized system is
designed to perform steps A through Z. If the
program is such that every step must be executed
properly before step Z is completed then an
acceptable means of complying with the regulation
would be all of the following: (1) documentation
of the program; (2) validation that no step can be
missed or poorly executed; and (3) documentation
of the initial and final steps. It would not be
necessary in this example to document steps B
10. Reproduction Accuracy. 21 CFR 211.188(a) requires
the batch record to contain a
reproduction of the master record. The intent is
to insure that the batch was, in fact, produced
according to the approved formulation,
manufacturing instructions and controls. The act
of computer transcription can generate errors.
The firm should check for such errors or otherwise
assure that no errors can occur. During the
inspection the investigator can ask to see the
original approved, endorsed, master record and
compare it to the batch record. The fact that the
batch record is a second or third generation copy
is not in and of itself objectionable provided it
11. NDA Considerations. 21 CFR 314.8 requires that a
supplement be submitted for changes in
manufacturing/control processes or facilities from
those stated in the approved NDA. If a firm has
changed from a manual to a computerized system
under an NDA, that change should be covered by a
supplemental application. If the change gives
increased assurance of product quality, then the
change can be put into effect before the
supplement has been approved. However, such
supplements should state the anticipated
implementation date (which should be sometime
after the submission date) to allow reviewing
chemists the lead time needed to determine if the
type of change proposed is, in fact, of the kind
which may be implemented prior to approval.
ADDRESS A switch pattern which identifies the
location of a piece of data or a program
ALGORITHM A systematic procedure or equation
designed to lead to the solution of a
problem in a finite number of steps.
ALU Arithmetic Logic Unit; the circuitry
within the CPU which performs all
ANALOG Continuous signal having a voltage which
corresponds to the monitored value.
APPLICATIONS Term used to describe software written
to perform tasks on a computer.
ASCII American Standard Code for Information
change; a system used to translate
keyboard characters into bits.
ASSEMBLER Program which translates assembly code
to executable machine code; e.g.
assembly code ADD becomes machine code
ASSEMBLY CODE Symbolics, a simple language; different
computers have different assembly codes.
ASYNCHRONOUS Term used to describe the exchange of
information piece by piece rather than
in long segments.
AUXILIARY STORAGE Storage device other than main storage;
disks and tapes.
BASIC Beginner's All Purpose Symbolic
Instruction Code; a high level language.
BATCH PROCESSING Execution of programs serially with no
BAUD The rate at which data is received or
transmitted in serial: one baud is one
bit per second.
BINARY The base two number system. Permissible
digits are 0 and 1.
BIT Binary Digit; the smallest unit of
information in a computer, represented
as 0 or 1, off or on for a switch.
BOOT An initialization program used to set up
the computer when it is turned on.
BUFFER Part of memory used to temporarily hold
data for further processing.
BUG A program error.
BUS Electrical pathway by which information
flows to different devices.
BYTE A sequence of adjacent bits, usually
eight, operated upon as a unit; the
lowest addressable unit in a computer.
COMPILER Program which translates a computer
language into executable machine code.
A compiler translates an entire program
before the program is run by the
CP/M Control Program for Microcomputers; a
registered trademark of Digital
Research; an operating system.
CPU Central processing unit of a computer
where the logic circuitry is located;
the CPU controls the entire computer; it
sends and receives data through
input-output channels, retrieves data
from memory and conducts all program
CRT TERMINAL Cathode ray tube; an input/output
DATABASE Collection of data, at least one file,
fundamental to a system.
DATA SET Term synonymous with file.
DIGITAL Relating to separate and discrete
DISK A circular rotating magnetic storage
device. Disks come in different sizes
and can be hard or flexible.
DISK DRIVE A device used to read from or write to a
disk or diskette.
DISK OPERATING SYSTEM DOS, a program which operates a disk
DISKETTE A floppy disk.
EPROM Erasable programmable read only memory:
switch pattern in circuit can be erased
by exposure to ultraviolet light.
FILE Set of related records treated as a
unit, stored on tape or disk; synonymous
with data set.
FIRMWARE A program permanently recorded, e.g., in
HARD COPY Output on paper.
HARDWARE Physical electronic circuitry and
HEXADECIMAL The base 16 number system. Digits are
0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C,
D, E, AND F. This is a convenient form
in which to examine binary data because
it collects 4 binary digits per
hexadecimal digit. E.g. Decimal 15 is
1111 in binary and F in hexadecimal.
INTEGRATED CIRCUIT (IC) Small wafers of silicon etched or
printed with extremely small electronic
switching circuits; also called CHIPS.
INTERACTIVE PROCESSING An application in which each entry calls
forth a response from a system or
program, as in a ticket reservation
INTERFACE A device which permits two or more
devices to communicate with each other.
INTERPRETER A program which translates a high level
language into machine code one
instruction at a time. Each instruction
in the high level language is executed
before the next instruction is
I/O PORT Input/output connector.
JOB Set of data completely defining a unit
of work for a computer.
K Symbol representing two to the tenth
power, 1024, usually used to describe
amounts of computer memory, and disk
storage, in bytes.
LANGUAGE Any symbolic communication media used to
furnish information to a computer.
Examples are PL/1, COBOL, BASIC,
FORTRAN, AND ASSEMBLY.
LOADER A program which copies other programs
from external to internal storage.
MACHINE CODE Numerial representations directly
executable by a computer; sometimes
called machine language.
MAIN STORAGE Term synonymous with MEMORY.
MAINFRAME Term used to describe a large computer.
MEGABYTE 1024K Bytes
MEMORY A non-moving storage device utilizing
one of a number of types of electronic
circuitry to store information.
MENU A CRT display listing a number of
options. the operator selects one of the
options. Sometimes used to denote a
list of programs.
MICROCOMPUTER A small computer (See MICROPROCESSOR).
MICROPROCESSOR Usually a single integrated circuit on a
chip; logic circuitry of a
microcomputer; frequently synonymous
with a microcomputer. A microprocessor
executes encoded instructions to perform
arithmetic operations, internal data
transfer, and communications with
MINICOMPUTER Medium sized computer.
MODEM Modulator - demodulation, a device which
accepts data from a computer, and sends
data to a computer, over telephone wires
or cables. A half duplex MODEM can only
receive or transmit data at one time. A
full duplex MODEM can receive and
transmit data at the same time.
MULTIPLEXER A device which takes information from
any of several sources and places it on
a single line.
NETWORK A system that ties together several
remotely located computers via
OBJECT CODE Term synonymous with machine code.
OEM Original Equipment Manufacturer (i.e.
maker of computer hardware).
OPERATING SYSTEM Set of machine language programs that
run accessories, perform commands and
interpret or translate high level
language program (usually written into
PARALLEL Term to describe transmission of data
eight bits (one byte) at a time.
PARITY BIT An extra bit within a byte; used to
verify the coded information in the byte
itself. The extra bit is either a one
or zero so as to make the total number
of ones in a byte equal either an odd or
even number (odd or even parity).
PERIPHERAL A general term used to describe an input
or output device.
PROGRAM A collection of logically interrelated
statements written in some computer
language which, after translation into
machine code, performs a predefined task
when run on the computer.
PROM Programmable read only memory; once
programmed the switch pattern on a PROM
cannot be changed. Special equipment
separate form the computer is usually
used to "burn in" the switch pattern.
communication between computers, i.e.
physical electrical links, message
format, message priorities, etc.
RAM Random access memory; internal storage
device containing volatile information
which can be changed; read-write memory.
When electrical power is cut off from a
RAM IC its memory is lost.
RECORD Collection of related data treated as a
SERIAL Term to describe handling of data one
bit at a time.
ROM Read only memory; internal storage
device in which information is
RS-232C An Electronic Industries Association
(EIA) standard for connecting electronic
equipment; data is transmitted and
received in serial format. This is an
interface standard that usually uses a
25 pin connector.
SOFTWARE Programs executable on a computer.
Programs are written in any number of
SOURCE PROGRAM High level language program which the
operator can read.
STORAGE DEVICE A unit into which can
be placed, retained and retrieved.
SYNTAX Required grammar or structure of a
SYSTEM Term can refer to hardware or software.
For hardware it is the collection of
equipment that makes up the computer.
For software it refers to an integrated
number of computer programs to perform
TAPE A liner magnetic storage device rolled
onto a reel or cassette.
TELECOMMUNICATION The devices and functions relating to
SYSTEM transmission of data between the central
processing system and remotely located
TERMINAL A device, usually equipped with a CRT
display and keyboard, used to send and
receive information to and from a
computer via a communication channel.
UTILITY PROGRAMS Special programs usually supplied by the
producer of the operating system. They
perform general functions such as making
back up copies of diskettes and copying
files from tape to disk.
VALIDATION The assurance, through testing, that
hardware or software produces specified
and predictable output for any given
WORD One or more adjacent bytes conveniently
considered as an entity. A word is
usually one to four bytes long,
depending on make of computer.
PROTOCOL Agreed upon set of standards which allow