The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is fundamentally changing the pharma industry. Advancements and innovations in technology are already empowering pharma companies to improve drug development and patient care. Simultaneously, healthcare providers and other stakeholders of the pharma industry are demanding data on the efficiency of drugs and patient records aimed at improving the overall quality of life. IIoT is the emerging force that can cater to fulfil these ever burgeoning demands. To add to this the pharma industry is facing continuing pressure as a result of aspects such as drug pricing fluctuations, funding research & development, increasing demand for access to better medical facilities and medicines that can provide personalized benefits resulting from the application of analytics. The industry is further burdened by stringent regulatory and compliance standards that one is required to follow. Yet another dimension of these challenges is the fact that pharma supply chains are getting increasingly global in nature. This demands the need for high levels of interconnectivity. As a result of this change, there is tremendous pressure in optimising cost and facilitating the flow of information seamlessly across the supply chain right from production to packaging and warehousing, to transportation and logistics, to the last mile delivery.
To add to this, there is an alarming rise in chronic diseases such as cancer, AIDS, diabetes and cardio- vascular diseases. Hence there is a need for pharma companies to deliver more solutions faster and at lower costs. This overwhelming demand can be addressed only by integration of newer technologies and trends such as the IIoT. There is also constant pressure on the pharma manufacturing companies to deliver best-in-class products owing to the nature of end-user risks. These companies abide by rigid and stringent regulations that have been constituted by state-owned bodies to ensure safety of consumers.
There is a lot of hue and cry around the IIoT and how this can help companies overcome the above mentioned challenges. Yet, on the ground level, there is still a lack of clarity in terms of where and how to get started. This article takes an effort to emphasize the importance of IIoT and how this can be useful for pharma manufacturers the world over in understanding the concept and implementing in their businesses.
The IIoT framework predominantly consists of sensors, cloud, analytics and end-user interfaces. Within this closed loop, the connection starts with collection of data through sensors attached to machines. All the data thus collected are passed onto a central database called the cloud. This is where much of the data are stored and analysed. Powerful analytical engines and algorithms work on this stored data to generate insights that then get displayed on dashboards exhibited on handheld computing devices. These insights are delivered to the end users to provide real-time information on aspects such as whether or not the drugs have been stored within the prescribed temperature range and so on.
Additionally, the data generated could also be converted to business intelligence and be fed into appropriate systems such as the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) modules to make sure that business processes are effectively monitored and optimized. This is also done to ensure that all manufacturing processes are within the prescribed limits of the regulatory standards. As a result of this implementation of the IIoT framework, drug manufacturers can gain complete control and visibility into different functionalities of their businesses. A business integrated with the different modules of IIoT can thus be able to give a complete and holistic view of the entire supply chain, thus helping overcome challenges such as the ones mentioned at the beginning of this article.
One of the key applications of IIoT in pharma manufacturing comes from serialization of products. This concept ensures tracking and traceability of drugs and helps provide intricate levels of detail across the entire supply chain. This results in improved confidence over product status as it helps companies perform a speedy recall should it be required. This feature also helps companies in quickly identifying retail pharmacies in case of any quality issue with the drugs, thus reducing risks across the supply chain. This can further help pharma companies increase efficiencies, reduce risks and decrease costs. Big Data thus plays a key role in optimizing processes and costs and in the process also helps in delivering drugs of highest quality. Additionally, serialization helps companies automate the adherence to regulatory standards and compliances. Doing everything online can help in eliminating a lot of documentation and paperwork that is otherwise involved.
However, it must be noted that while we might just be talking about Pharma 4.0, the basic technology upon which this concept has been built has been around for a long time, probably known by several other names. It is therefore not surprising how some companies who have been early adopters of the concept had already become experts in IIoT solution much before the coining of the team IIoT. One of the key concerns here has been in identifying specific use case implementations for IIoT in pharma. Companies are increasingly working in this direction in order to tap the complete potential of IIoT in pharmaceutical manufacturing. To summarize, IIoT will play a major role in the near future in providing in-depth insights and improved visibility in the manufacturing value chain. This in turn would help ensure improved performance, reduce risks and optimize processes at all levels and functions of drug manufacturing. All the challenges that are currently prevalent in the pharma industry can be overcome with smart implementation of IIoT that will help companies improve profitability and ensure compliance, high quality of service, and ultimately patient safety.