Pharma: Unlocking a digital future

With the unveiling of the ‘Made Smarter’ industrial digitalisation review earlier this year, which outlined the ways industrial digitalisation could, over the next 10 years, boost UK manufacturing by £455bn and increase sector growth by 3%, the opportunities available to pharmaceutical manufacturers looking to further embrace digitalisation could not be clearer.

When looking specifically at the pharmaceutical industry and the opportunities presented as a result of digitalisation, there are a number of drivers, especially given the findings of the ‘Made Smarter' industrial digitalisation review, which outlined that by 2030 businesses could unlock up to  35% increase in productivity gains by investing in a digital future.


This, coupled with a changing market environment which is demanding smaller batches and volumes of personalised medicines to be developed, has also seen the need for pharmaceutical manufacturers to evolve and adapt their operations to become more flexible and responsive to customer needs, while continuing to drive cost and efficiency gains.


Alwyn Jones, Head of Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences, Siemens UK and Ireland, explains how digitalisation is opening up increased opportunities for pharmaceutical manufacturers in both the long and short-term.

Productivity gains

In a highly competitive marketplace, one where new drugs are being brought to market quicker than ever before and where a drive towards customisation is clear, pharmaceutical manufacturers need to respond in order to continue to compete on both a local and global scale.


In this regard, the move towards digitalisation/Industry 4.0 is helping businesses improve productivity and enable a truly flexible approach to manufacturing – exactly the type of flexibility that will ultimately allow for the highly customised production of medicines at mass market cost. Digitalisation can help across all stages of the product lifecycle, primarily focussing on an integrated data landscape from manufacturing right across the value chain.

Increased cost efficiency

When it comes to the bottom line, a move towards digitalisation is also helping pharmaceutical manufacturers become more cost-efficient. And at a time when the industry is facing increased pressure from the government to reduce perceived margins, cost efficiency is high on the agenda for manufacturers. The adoption of digital technology in both existing and new production facilities will result in significant productivity improvements.


For the pharmaceutical industry, two things are mandatory: bringing new drugs to market in the shortest possible time, and always providing the highest product quality.


Digital technology plays an important role in bringing the cost of quality down through digitally enabled research and development, manufacturing, asset maintenance, supply chain management and resource efficiency.

An individual approach to Industry 4.0

While the opportunities presented by digitalisation to pharmaceutical manufacturers are clear, there is still a disconnect between manufacturers and wide-spread adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies.


For many businesses, there is still a level of exploration required when it comes to Industry 4.0 and understanding the ways in which it can be used to leverage efficiency and commercial gains.


As such, for pharmaceutical manufacturers trying to understand how they can become a digital enterprise, they should take a holistic approach to digitalisation before investing in automated systems and digital solutions. By taking a step back and understanding the strategic objectives of digitalisation, companies are much better placed to effectively leverage Industry 4.0, utilising digitalisation as a strategic technology enabler.

Workforce 4.0

Of course, it seems justified that in order for pharmaceutical businesses to embrace the opportunity Industry 4.0 presents, there is the need to also invest in upskilling workforces to effectively facilitate the move towards digitalisation adoption.


This is acknowledged in the findings of the ‘Made Smarter’ review, which identified that industrial digitalisation could create a net gain of 175,000 jobs in UK manufacturing; but there is a significant skills gap.


Apprenticeships go some way to helping fill the gap - challenging the perception surrounding the sector as a less desirable career choice amongst younger generations. Looking in further detail, government and industry working in tangent will play a crucial role in bridging this gap and fostering future talent. The recommendations outlined in the ‘Made Smarter’ review offer a real advantage to businesses to further leverage the opportunities identified from digitalisation.


UK Life Sciences provides highly skilled, high value jobs that have an average GVA per employee (a measure of labour productivity) that is over twice the UK average when compared to other industry sectors. The ‘Made Smarter’ review highlighted that each employee in the pharmaceutical sector contributes £149,000 to UK GDP every year, so it is vital that strategies are put in place to encourage more talent into the industry.

Digital maturity

For any pharmaceutical business looking to embark on its digitalisation journey, while the benefits are clear, navigating a new digital landscape can be daunting. With this in mind, Siemens is helping manufacturers realise this potential, with digital maturity assessment resource.


Providing support through industry experience, we are able to review a company’s current facilities to identify any gaps in digital maturity, highlight disparate automation systems and mark out the key areas where they can invest and realise benefits, as part of a holistic strategy.


Of course, the journey towards digitalisation is not something which can be achieved overnight; but for pharmaceutical businesses willing to not only invest in digital technologies but do so from a strategic perspective, the potential gains are huge.

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