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Nextgen manufacturing in pharma

Nextgen manufacturing in pharma

November 1, 2023 11:12 am

In the heart of India’s pharmaceutical landscape, a quiet revolution is taking place. With a keen eye for innovation and efficiency, the industry harnesses cutting-edge technologies, such as robotics, automation, data analytics, and AI, to transform how medicines are produced and delivered. This cover story delves into the strategic adoption of automation, the role of data analytics, the synergy between AI and IoT, and the unique challenges the pharmaceutical sector faces in upholding quality and compliance.

The pharma industry is making commendable strides in harnessing cutting-edge technologies related to robotics and automation. They have adopted a prudent approach by urging original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) responsible for providing essential equipment in pharmaceutical manufacturing setups – such as those involved in tablet production – to not only supply the core machinery but also integrate advanced automation capabilities through their in-house automation teams and technological expertise.

Pharmaceutical companies are being smart by teaming up with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who provide the necessary machinery and promote automation in that machinery. India has a strong history and a promising future in pharmaceuticals, and the industry is managing its finances wisely by cost-effectively adopting automation getting high-tech results with minimal investment.

Robot density
From a national point of view, we use a metric called “robot density” to measure our level of automation. Mr. Guru Prasad, Assistant Vice President, CSSR and Electronics, Robotics and Discrete, ABB India adds “Robot density shows how many industrial robots are being used for every 10,000 employees in the formal manufacturing sector, not including casual labour. A few years ago, our robot density was low, staying in the single digits. Now, we’ve improved and are in the higher single digits, maybe around the 7th or 8th place globally. It’s important to remember that this doesn’t directly compare to larger countries like Iran, but it helps us understand how much our country has progressed in automation.”

The reason behind the increasing adoption of robotics is its ability to enhance productivity without compromising safety, hygiene, or the crucial aspect of traceability, especially vital in the pharmaceutical industry. Combining the concept of robot density with the drive for automation and improved productivity, it’s a distinctive solution that’s been in use for many years and is becoming even more unique thanks to cutting-edge sensors, 2D and 3D vision systems, and AMRS AGVS technology. Automation is a driving force for boosting productivity, enhancing quality and hygiene, and ensuring robust traceability. In a nutshell, it’s all about achieving these goals.

Mr. Nitin Davessar, Chief Manager, Sales, Addverb adds that if you’re dealing with a drug that can be produced at room temperature without much complexity, conveyor systems tend to be the more cost-effective and efficient choice. They offer higher throughput and are budget-friendly. However, in cases involving temperature-sensitive Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) with a need for minimal human interaction and where you don’t want to restrict access on the shop floor, AGVs and AMRs become the preferred solution. These automated vehicles provide flexibility, allowing products to move without obstructing the workspace. It’s essential to note that this isn’t limited to the pharmaceutical industry; AMRs are increasingly finding applications in cutting-edge manufacturing locations.

Data analytics
In today’s digital age, the adage that “data is the new oil” rings true, especially when considering the practices of tech giants like Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Mr Prasad says that these companies harness user data not only to boost their sales but also to assist individuals in their pursuit of a better quality of life. However, the significance of data and data analytics becomes even more pronounced in manufacturing. The data generated at various levels of automation, from basic sensors to advanced cloud-based algorithms, plays a pivotal role.

Specifically, in the context of automation, the data we collect, such as information from 2D or 3D vision systems, proves invaluable for machine learning. This data enables robots to sort products efficiently, recognise new items, and develop improved methods for handling them. As machine learning evolves into artificial intelligence, the critical role of data and data analytics in the world of automation cannot be overstated. It has already become an integral part of modern manufacturing.

AI and IoT  
In artificial intelligence (AI), there’s a natural connection to the concept of digital twins. AI inevitably brings us to digital twins because they address a specific limitation in the use of AI in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly in automation. However, when AI and digital twins work in tandem, this limitation becomes almost nonexistent. This collaboration allows you to have a virtual replica of your entire factory on your computer screen. This means that any issues, mixing or tracking, can be monitored in real-time on your computer.

Moreover, with the help of the Internet of Things and high-speed connections like 5G, you can make real-time adjustments to your factory equipment from your computer. The improvement in connection speeds, whether it’s due to 5G or high-speed fibre-optic cables, combined with digital twins, is transforming how plants are operated, equipment is maintained, and maintenance needs are predicted. It also facilitates rapid responses in case of equipment failures.

According to Mr. Davessar, IoT can be as straightforward as receiving sensor data to monitor conditions while creating a pharmaceutical formula. This data includes checking if the temperature inside a vessel is at the correct level and ensuring that it’s consistent in different parts of the vessel. It also involves confirming if the humidity in the facility meets the required standards during processes like bottle filling and product packaging. Once you have access to data from various sensors, the key question becomes how to make the right decisions based on that information. For instance, if you identify that a single bottle in the production line is underweight, can you track and remove that specific bottle from the packaging process to prevent it from reaching the customer? Similarly, in the event of a faulty batch, IoT can help prevent it from entering the market and causing problems for both the customers and the company.

Efficiency improvements  
Efficiency, sometimes called technical availability, measures how well equipment performs during its designated operational time. For instance, if a piece of equipment is supposed to run for 22.5 hours and produce 20 million items, but it has 18 million, it’s considered 90% efficient.

When we talk about adopting newer technologies, especially in the context of automation, the primary goal is to enhance this efficiency. Whether it’s through robotics, conveyor-based automation, or the use of AMRS and AGVs, the overarching aim is to boost efficiency from, say, 90% to 95%, 96%, 97%, or even 98%, whatever is realistically attainable. When we engage with pharmaceutical clients looking to implement automation, their primary objective is to improve efficiency, and this is how they justify their return on investment. Ultimately, the core focus is on enhancing productivity and overall efficiency.

The main idea here is to figure out how to maximise the output from a manufacturing facility, which can be visualised as a box. The goal is to increase the number of products produced within a given time frame, whether it’s per day, per hour, and so on. This is what we consider efficiency. The challenge is to achieve this without increasing the workforce or the time involved.

We approach this by tackling it in two ways. First, we aim to remove any limitations within the system. For example, suppose the manufacturing process is manual and involves passing a formula from point A to B to C. In that case, we work on expediting this process, such as reducing the time between these steps. We also look for and address any bottlenecks in the system to enhance efficiency.

Pharma logistics
The logistics aspect of pharma is quite a complex challenge, similar to the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry’s approach to efficient milk run deliveries. Mr. Ravikiran Pothukuchi, Director – Sales | Data Science, Manufacturing & Logistics, INDIA, Dassault Systemes, notes that the goal is to optimise the most efficient delivery routes to retailers and warehouses. The process involves optimisation along with planning. The first step consists in creating a comprehensive network diagram that lays out the locations of your warehouses, retailers, and daily delivery volumes.

Once you have this network in place, you employ an optimisation tool to figure out the best methods for distributing the goods. Logistics is not just about profitability; it also has significant implications for sustainability. Running trucks and delivery vehicles incurs not only costs for the organisation but also environmental costs due to fuel consumption. This adds another layer of complexity, as organisations need to balance economic and sustainability considerations.

Challenges faced by pharma 
The challenges facing the pharmaceutical industry share similarities with other sectors, but what sets it apart is the unique processes and stringent regulations it must adhere to. This distinctiveness makes it a prime candidate for various forms of automation. According to Mr. Davessar, the first and foremost challenge is impeccable hygiene and traceability. These are products meant to improve health, often complex chemical or biological formulations. The key is to manufacture them correctly and maintain the highest hygiene standards throughout the process.

Additionally, ensuring traceability is crucial to guarantee that the correct materials are used in the right quantities and under the right conditions. To tackle these challenges, IoT (Internet of Things) technology and various sensors play a significant role. They help monitor essential factors like temperature and humidity, as well as other environmental conditions. Moreover, serialisation is a critical aspect of traceability. Companies dealing with numerous raw materials and APIs must ensure that every item is correctly recorded and labelled. Many businesses have transitioned from paper-based systems to more advanced methods, such as barcodes and RFID tags, which provide precise tracking and immediate action in case of any discrepancies in material quantities.

Compliance with pharmaceutical industry regulations, including CFR and GMP standards, is crucial. Companies aiming to serve this sector must have robust processes in place to meet these stringent requirements effectively.

India’s pharmaceutical industry is a global powerhouse, but it faces the critical challenge of upholding high-quality standards while meeting colossal production demands. The key lies in establishing processes that ensure right-first-time production, relying on a combination of manual and advanced inspections, including vision-based systems. Equally essential is implementing a robust preventive maintenance system to sustain the industry’s success. As the industry continues to evolve, maintaining quality and reliability will be paramount to meet both domestic and international healthcare needs.


Mr. Nitin Davessar, Chief Manager, Sales, Addverb.
“In the pharmaceutical industry, data analytics is crucial for tasks like serialisation, diversion, and decision-making on the factory floor, heavily relying on data. As we advance, software becomes even more crucial than hardware in these processes.”

Ravikiran Pothukuchi, Director – Sales | Data Science, Manufacturing & Logistics, INDIA, Dassault Systemes.
“Efficient logistics in the context of optimising delivery routes for retailers and warehouses is a multifaceted challenge that requires comprehensive network diagramming and optimisation tools to balance economic and sustainability considerations.”

Mr. Guru Prasad, Assistant Vice President, CSSR and Electronics, Robotics and Discrete, ABB India.
“Automation, with its unique blend of robot density, cutting-edge sensors, and AMRS AGVS technology, is a driving force for boosting productivity, quality, hygiene, and traceability.”

Shyam Padwal, Branch Head – Mumbai and Pharmaceutical Expert.
“Automation and robotics in manufacturing offer unprecedented levels of machine flexibility and precision, enabling manufacturers to embrace mass customization and optimize lot size one processes with ease.”

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