Australian drug firms can make manufacturing more efficient with “Industry 4.0” technologies. According to new research, the difficulty will be finding staff with the skills to use them.

A recent study has looked at why various industries are adopting 4.0 approaches and, according to author Melanie Ayre, PhD, from CSIRO, the Australian Government’s scientific research agency, some common motivations emerged.

“Generally speaking, Industry 4.0 is important because the data and modeling that it provides help manufacturers to allocate resources more efficiently and respond to customers in a more timely and tailored way.”

Efficiency is vital for any manufacturer that wants to grow market share, according to Ayre, who adds, 4.0 methods can help make sure resources like workers’ time and input are properly directed.

“So, in highly regulated markets, like medicine, Industry 4.0 technologies can improve provenance and tracking or lower its cost and enable more effective planning and scheduling in response to shifts in supply or demand.”

The study also examined how industry 4.0 is being adopted and, Ayre notes, the companies that digitized best were those with technology and experienced staff.

“It is important to note that these improvements aren’t achieved by the technologies alone, investment is also required in the digital skills of the workforce and the analytics skills of the leadership to enable data-driven, local decision-making.”

Skills shortage

Unfortunately for Australian biopharma, finding staff with digital manufacturing knowhow and experience could be a challenge.

“Across the manufacturing sector there are probably three key challenges. The first is the availability of a digitally skilled workforce, both in terms of skills to deploy and integrate digital technologies into manufacturing and to work effectively with such technologies,” she explains. “Secondly, particularly in highly regulated industries like biopharma, ensuring correct ownership and management of data captured—avoiding vendor lock-in—will be critical.”

Another hurdle is that workers from sectors where digital manufacturing skills are more common—such as the food and beverage industries—tend not to switch to jobs to other areas. As a result, the opportunities for biopharma to tap this talent pool are limited.

“There isn’t much movement of workers in and out of this industry class, which means that there is less opportunity to learn from the experience of manufacturers in other fields,” Ayre points out.

However, efforts are being made to address the digital skills shortfall, according to Ayre.

“Australia has a growing Industrial Internet of Things sector, with suppliers available at all levels, for consultancy, software and hardware supply and integration, even bespoke manufacture and device design. We also have extensive R&D capability, both at CSIRO and in universities.”