The pharmaceutical manufacturer of tomorrow

Digitalisation remains a challenge for many businesses across multiple sectors at present and pharmaceutical manufacturers are no different.

It was under this theme that Siemens recently held its ‘Process Industries Made Smarter’ event. Specifically targeted at chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturers, the event looked at the ways in which businesses can effectively adopt digitalisation in order to ensure that UK industry remains competitive on a global scale. In this Q&A, Alwyn Jones, Head of Pharmaceutical & Life Sciences at Siemens UK & Ireland responds to some of the most common questions raised at the event.

Question: In which of the steps on the value chain do you see the most potential for digitalisation?

Within the pharmaceutical sector in particular, the industry is facing a number of challenges to not only effectively embrace digital technologies, while also meeting the increasingly challenging, and ever-changing, demands regulatory bodies who govern the industry place on it. However, this challenge coupled with the ongoing skills shortage facing the industry often means that the sector is overshadowed by other industries, further along their digitalisation journey. 


The successful adoption of digital technologies offered within Industry 4.0 is of course one way in which pharmaceutical manufacturers are already increasing productivity. And, a significant number of companies are already committed to investing in digitalisation across various stages of the value chain from drug discovery, through to patient delivery, and all stages in between. 


However, in order to take this forward and ensure maximum gains are realised, businesses must also recognise that digitalisation cannot work in silos. Instead, to be truly effective, a collaborative approach must be taken by manufacturers, by breaking down individual areas in order to fully release the potential gains delivered by digitalisation across the entire value chain.


Under this ethos we are now seeing more and more businesses turning to digital technologies in order to aid bolder and quicker decision making. This is happening through digital design and operations, allowing pharmaceutical manufacturers to explore previously untried avenues in order to develop new, successful, manufacturing approaches and processes. 


Here, we’re seeing technologies such as digital simulation play a pivotal role in helping manufacturers safely, and at significantly reduced cost, create virtual environments. The digital twin is not only used across production processes, but also at every stage of the product lifecycle, simulating the design of experiments (DOE’s), manufacturing recipes, and enabling manufacturers to work in a virtual environment, to replicate and enhance real-life production processes.

Question: Do you see a level of cross-Industry collaboration to spread the cost of digital development and Entry Level Talent Training where there are similarities in processing technologies such as in Pharma API and specialty chemical?

A major challenge is currently being felt across the industry is in the lack of sufficient skills and expertise to support these emerging digital technologies. This challenge is currently the main driver in the need for collaboration across the pharmaceutical industry and wider sectors in order to ensure we have the workforce in place to maximise the gains presented by digitalisation.


The recommendations outlined by the Made Smarter Review, called for an annual net gain of 175,000 roles across industry over the next ten years in order for UK manufacturing to remain competitive.

And when you consider within pharmaceutical industry there are 107,000 people who are directly employed by bio-pharmaceutical companies alone in the UK, each of whom contribute £149,000 to GDP per year, it’s vital the sector invests to ensure it has a workforce in place which is fully skilled on the digital technologies for both today and tomorrow.


Not only will this require the up-skilling and retraining of existing employees, but also the positioning of the pharmaceutical industry as one which is attractive to future generations.


Again, the Made Smarter Review outlines a number of recommendations in order to ensure UK manufacturing can successfully overcome the digital skills gap. Such recommendations include greater cross-sector collaboration between industry and government to establish incentivised programmes to improve digital skills capabilities. With new manufacturing processes and technologies coming in to the industry all the time, it’s not only vital that businesses look at the ways they can retrain and upskill existing workforces, but also at the ways they can effectively ensure they have a pipeline of talent equipped to leverage the manufacturing technologies of tomorrow.


With this in mind, Siemens together with the University of Salford recently collaborated to develop its Bachelor of Engineering degree in Control and Automation. The pioneering degree offers students digital content specifically geared to meet the needs of today’s industrial businesses. Playing an important role in bridging the skills shortage, the course combines a number of academic modules.

Question: Is there a point of no return for industry 4.0 in terms of the time to adopt before we are overtaken by the competition?

Going forward, digital technology will continue to be a powerful tool in bringing new and affordable medicines to market quickly. It will continue to shape and influence not just how medicine is discovered, developed and manufactured, but also how patients are diagnosed and treated. This continued shift will see an increasing need from pharmaceutical manufacturers to continue to invest in the digital technologies which can add value across the entire value chain, but also the skill to underpin this technology.


In such a competitive marketplace, there is a strong requirement to boost productivity of manufacturing plants using automation and digitalisation technologies. There is a drive towards flexible and paperless manufacturing and intelligent use of real time data for predictive and advanced process control.


So, for those businesses looking to remain at the top of their industry, the question is no longer ‘should’ we adopt digital technologies, but ‘how’ can we adopt digital technologies? This change in thinking will enable manufacturers to see that while on the surface the challenges presented by digitalisation are great, the benefits are far greater.


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