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Pharmaceutical sector embracing Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 refers to the paradigm of connecting physical systems by direct machine-to-machine communications via the Industrial Internet of Things. Examples of application, as referenced by Pharmaceutical Technology magazine, include German manufacturer Merck which is seeking to connect “smart factories” in order to achieve responsive and adaptive manufacturing.

Merck – smart factory

With the Merck model, data are seen the key asset which can be transformed into intelligence in order to maximize the effectiveness of operations. According to Christian Schäfer, head of Merck’s Automation Technology team: “Over the past three decades it went like this: You decided what you wanted to make, and then you ordered a specialized automated plant that would then operate for a number of years. But that doesn’t work anymore.”

Because the sector is demanding smaller batches of medicines produced more and more quickly, the Merck reaction was, Schäfer notes: “Our response to Industrie 4.0 is modularization.”

For this Merck is working with Siemens to develop manufacturing plants comprising a wide range of different modules. These modules can be connected in serial, parallel, or both, depending on the type of product.

Pfizer – connected manufacturing

A second example is with the U.S. company Pfizer, which is implementing “connected manufacturing plants”. One feature of this model will be to have data visible and available on demand. Connected manufacturing puts in place the required steps in the manufacturing process, like delivery of raw materials or shipment of the finished product, which can be added into the process without disturbing production.

At its base in Freiburg, for example, Pfizer has developed a especially designed mixing unit which is able to blend active ingredients into a homogenous compound. This process happens with no interruption, which saves time and reduces costs, as well as lowering the possibility for error.

Sanofi – digital twins

A third case is with the French company Sanofi, which has begun the process of employing so-called “digital twins” to simulate their biopharma manufacturing processes. A “digital twin” is a 3D computer model of the actual plant, connected directly to all the sensors and data in the physical factory. As data flows to these digital twins this provides managers with a real-time view into the plant’s operation. Other innovations at Sanofi include the adoption of collaborative robots, augmented reality, and paperless operations.

Rocky road ahead

The pharmaceutical sector’s progress towards Industry 4.0 will be uneven, writes Jennifer Markarian. This is because many parts of it are still struggling with aspects of automation. She writes “In some ways, the pharmaceutical industry is still transitioning to automation (i.e., “Industry 3.0”), but it is moving (albeit more slowly than other manufacturing segments) toward an Industry 4.0 paradigm.”

Several of these innovations will be presented at CPhI WorldWide 2018, which will include a Keynote Session Discussion panel on creating an Industry 4.0 Strategy for manufacturing. The event takes place during October 2018.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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