Realizing Bioprocessing 4.0 depends on adding more automation—sometimes, in unexpected ways. “Using automated ground vehicles for warehouse management is an area where robotics could help,” says Chris Sandusky, director, automation solutions at Cytiva. “As single use continues to be adopted, the logistical management of consumables continues to grow.”

Keeping single-use methods going depends on a collection of consumables. “The use of automated ground vehicles to manage inventory and deliver consumables to the right location would free up labor to do other tasks and be more accurate in the kitting of consumables needed for production,” Sandusky continues.

Beyond single-use applications, improvements in automation could also enhance traditional methods. “Using robots to clean suites before or after a batch production would decrease cleaning cycles and improve overall cleanliness of a facility,” Sandusky explains. “Even the use of robots cleaning standard office corridors or suites where manufacturing is taking place, would free up labor to focus on areas where cleaning is more difficult for a robot.”

The existing uses of automation can also be improved. Most bioprocessors ship products to another facility for automated vial filling. Instead, Sandusky points out that automated filling can be added to the end of a bioprocessing line—all performed in the same facility. As he says, it’s possible to include “standardized, flexible systems for automated vial filling as the final step in manufacturing clinical and commercial biopharmaceuticals.” As he adds, “Having the final step in-house helps increase speed to market whilst helping decrease costs.”

Expanding automation in the bioprocessing industry will range from the expected, such as vial filling, to the less expected, such as cleaning facilities. In single-use applications, in particular, added automation will be crucial. Still, the software, sensors, and other elements of Bioprocessing 4.0 should integrate with automated methods. Sometimes, though, it’s just as important to develop an automated supply line. It takes all of these factors working as one to really get the most out of automation in tomorrow’s bioprocessing.