In over 30 years of covering the life sciences, the difficulty of connecting devices might be the most common complaint that I’ve heard. Maybe the Internet of Things (IoT) will resolve that. At least, it’s a key goal of this technology.

According to writer Alexander Gillis, the IoT is “a network of interrelated devices that connect and exchange data with other IoT devices and the cloud.” This technology can also improve bioprocessing.

young scientist
Rather than being one technology, though, the IoT combines a collection of tools and techniques, from sensors and software to analytics and artificial intelligence. Consequently, the IoT could benefit many applications. [PeopleImages/Getty Images]
The Industrial IoT (IIoT), for example, “provides real-time insight into the operations of any industrial process from product conceptualization, process optimization, and manufacturing to the supply chain,” as noted by Lidia Borgosz, a bioprocessing graduate student, and Duygu Dikicioglu, PhD, associate professor in digital bioprocessing and biochemical engineering—both at the University College London.

The IIoT—and really any IoT application—goes beyond connecting devices. Although that interconnectivity makes up the foundation of any IoT, the real power comes from making use of such interconnectivity. As Borgosz and Dikicioglu point out: “IIoT enables wide-scope data collection and utilization, and reduces errors, increases efficiency, and provides an improved understanding of the process in return.”

Multistep process

In bioprocessing, scientists often seek new ways to understand a process. That is a difficult task when so many steps are involved, from upstream processes feeding into a bioreactor followed by downstream devices. Putting the IIoT to work in bioprocessing, though, is complex.

“Extensive process understanding is what [the] biopharmaceutical industry strives for, however, the complexity of transition into a new mode of operation, potential misalignment of priorities, the need for substantial investments to facilitate transition, the limitations imposed by the downtime required for transition, and the essentiality of regulatory support, render it challenging for the industry to adopt IIoT solutions to integrate with biomanufacturing operations,” Borgosz and Dikicioglu note.

Nonetheless, these scientists came up with many ways the IIoT could benefit bioprocessing. Their list ranged from designing more efficient experiments to using automation to add efficiency and reduce disruptions.

Still, the IIoT’s traction in bioprocessing remains to be seen. As Borgosz and Dikicioglu conclude: “Although there are multiple benefits IIoT can bring to bioprocessing, they are not yet viewed sufficiently beneficial to justify the risks and investments associated with the implementation.” That is likely to change.

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