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Increase asset use and improve life-cycles

Bringing flexibility to pharmaceutical manufacturing

George Walker explores of how modern automation systems and equipment can help pharmaceutical businesses to reduce downtime, increase asset use and improve lifecycles. The key to achieving this is in the IoT platform or system used to manage operations, and why choosing one that facilitates flexibility is crucial.

With the spectacular four-year bull run of pharmaceutical and biotech valuations from 2011-2015 over, manufacturers understand that their need to adapt is more urgent than ever before.

A study by McKinsey shows that the market leading pharmaceutical manufacturers are 53% faster at getting product to market than their average competitor. This allows them to produce more than double the quantity of product within the same time frame. 

This is due to re-investment in raising production process efficiency, with top producers not only out-producing competitors but also releasing 97% of their products to market without the need of rework. 

An example of this reinvestment is the introduction of flexible production lines, which work by identifying cross-over steps in manufacture, when two or more processes share a similar step, allowing the same piece of equipment to be used in both processes.

For example, for some drugs, the active pharmaceutical ingredient must be mixed with a solvent, after which the solvent is removed by a separation column. 

As many drugs require this step, as long as the conditions required are similar, the separation column can be adapted to work on multiple production lines – creating instant flexible production.

Due to the high standards demanded of pharmaceutical production, thorough analysis is required to ascertain which equipment is suitable for use in flexible production. An IoT platform can be a good tool for performing this analysis. 

A  good  IoT platform, such as our preferred system, GE Digital’s Predix, will be able to gather and analyse operational data to provide detailed insight. This will include factors such as traceability within product flow, enabling more precise tracking of batches and will streamline validation, because detailed information will be automatically stored. 

In addition to introducing flexible manufacturing to pharmaceuticals, an IoT platform provides the structure to implement other developing technologies. This was reinforced last year by ACG inspection, a leading track and trace business with offices in over 100 countries.

“Technologies like blockchain, IIoT and machine learning will play a key role in securing the pharmaceutical supply chain from counterfeit goods. And we expect that – in future – all countries will come together to standardise track and trace implementation,” explained Ettore Cucchetti, CEO of ACG Inspection. 

By adopting these measures, downtime can be prevented on two fronts. Increasing cross-over equipment that can be used for production, prevents downtime through lack of use. 

In addition, the IoT platform will give greater insight into the conditions of the equipment; facilitating maintenance and preventing downtime while enabling predictive maintenance.

A knock-on effect is the reduction of data-entry, reducing the time that operators and supervisors spend on time-consuming tasks. This means that technical employees are available for maintenance, problem-solving and decision-making, letting them concentrate on streamlining operations.

As the bull run becomes a trot, it is the ideal opportunity to re-invest and strengthen current production; it will be the most flexible manufacturers that come out on top.

George Walker is managing director of Novotek UK.

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