Industry 4.0 ideas are starting to win over the drug industry, according to a researcher who says the desire for more efficient, sustainable production is driving the change. The term industry 4.0—the use of interconnected, “smart” technologies in manufacturing—has been around for nearly a decade. The approach has had a dramatic impact on a variety of industries with the automotive sector being a high-profile example.

The biopharmaceutical industry, by contrast, has been slower to move in a digital direction says Manan Shah, PhD, from the school of energy technology at Pandit Deendayal Energy University in Gujarat, India.

“The adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies in biopharmaceutical manufacturing is still in its early stages compared to other industries such as automotive, manufacturing and electronics,” say Shah. The slow adoption is due to the high level of scrutiny surrounding the production of drugs.”

But the potential advantages of data-driven, digital manufacturing, particularly in terms of efficiency and environmental sustainability, are proving too significant to ignore, adds Shah, who notes that as the “benefits of Industry 4.0 become more evident, the biopharmaceutical industry is coming to embrace these technologies and incorporate them into their manufacturing processes.”

Shah bases his view on a recent analysis of the impact industry 4.0 ideas are having on the biopharmaceutical business. The study, published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research, looked at how drug makers are using digital technologies–AI, robotics, and the internet of things (IoT)–in manufacturing.

“Artificial Intelligence and machine learning can be used to predict equipment failures and maintenance needs. This will help to reduce downtime and ensure that production runs smoothly,” according to Shah. “Moreover, AI algorithms can be used to identify and correct quality issues in real-time, reducing the risk of costly manufacturing errors and recalls.”

“Industry 4.0 technologies can also help biopharma companies reduce their environmental impact by improving energy efficiency, reducing waste, and minimizing water usage. Overall, the integration of Industry 4.0 technologies like artificial intelligence in biopharmaceutical manufacturing could lead to significant improvements in efficiency, sustainability, and quality, ultimately benefitting both the companies and the patients who rely on their products.”

The extent to which biopharmaceutical companies benefit from the industry 4.0 approach will depend upon the amount of preparation and infrastructure building they undertake. For Shah, finding ways to manage and protect data will be the biggest challenge for biopharmaceutical companies more used to traditional, analogue manufacturing operations.

“Companies must prioritize the protection of sensitive patient data, ensure new technologies can integrate with existing systems,” he says. “They must invest in workforce training to prepare employees for new roles and responsibilities.”


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