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New production efficiencies

18th December 2018


loT platforms can bring a wealth of benefits to pharmaceutical production

Gayle Walker on strategies to prevent downtime in pharmaceutical production

The age of the blockbuster drug is over. The last remnants of this golden age of pharmaceuticals are slowly coming out of IP protection and being mass produced by a large range of companies. As a new day dawns on the pharmaceutical industry, here we look at what pharmaceutical companies can do to prevent unnecessary downtime in production and raise production efficiency.

The pharmaceutical industry’s strong position has meant that until recently manufacturing costs were not an important factor. With margins high and competition few and far between, drugs could be priced accordingly to make up for inefficiencies in the production line.
With the loss of IP protection this is no longer the case, as new competitors are starting to snap at the heels of established producers, pushing prices down with efficient streamlined processes.

Another issue facing pharmaceutical production is the consolidation of buying power from pharmacies and hospitals. This is further driving prices down, with some hospitals even going as far as starting their own production of generic drugs to cut out the high costs of dealing with the pharmaceutical industry.

These factors all come together to demonstrate that the previous strong market position held by pharmaceutical producers is slipping. It is evidently the right time to introduce innovative processes to increase efficiency.

The pharmaceutical industry is waking up to the fact that it must adapt, just like the semiconductor, heavy industry, automotive and consumer goods sectors before it. The first task is for pharmaceutical businesses to embark on a continuous improvement campaign and start to get the most out of their production lines.

The first step in getting more out of production is understanding production lines. With concepts such as flexible production lines becoming increasingly popular, pharmaceuticals must be able to adopt these innovative processes to sharpen their competitive edge.

One way to gain deeper knowledge of a production line is by using an IoT platform, such as GE Digital’s Predix, in tandem with smart sensors to analyse data generated by manufacturing devices. With this information in hand, accurate lifecycles can be created for assets. This analysis can help users understand the exact performance of their production assets, allowing them to tap new potential from their production lines. The analysis will help plant managers to get the most out of underused assets by showing if there is the potential to use pieces of equipment in multiple production lines.

By knowing the lifecycle of machinery, it will allow for planned downtime. Planned downtime is much shorter and less disruptive to production than unplanned downtime caused by faults or breakdowns. IoT platforms also make use of data available from the control systems to minimise the amount of data entry from operators or supervisors. This streamlines work procedures, allowing for key employees not to be bogged down in time-consuming, repetitive tasks.

When considering these methods and all that IoT platforms can provide, there is a plethora of efficiency raising and cost reduction solutions that pharmaceutical production can embrace. Reducing unexpected downtime and increasing asset reliability are good first steps, however there are many other methods that can be introduced. With this knowledge, we can ensure that the new day dawning on the pharmaceutical industry is a pleasant one.

Gayle Walker is operations manager at Novotek UK & Ireland





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