Preventing downtime in pharmaceuticals


Gayle Walker, Operations Manager at Novotek UK & Ireland, explains what pharmaceutical companies can do to prevent unnecessary downtime in production and raise production efficiency

Preventing downtime in pharmaceuticals

The age of the blockbuster drug has come to an end. The last remnants of this golden age of pharmaceuticals are slowly coming out of IP protection and being mass produced by a large range of companies. But what can pharmaceutical companies do to prevent unnecessary downtime and to raise production efficiency?

The pharmaceutical industry’s strong position has meant that until recently manufacturing costs were not an important factor. With margins high and competition few and far between, drugs could be priced accordingly to make up for inefficiencies in the production line.

With the loss of IP protection this is no longer the case, as new competitors are starting to snap at the heels of established producers, pushing prices down with efficient streamlined processes.

Another issue facing pharmaceutical production is the consolidation of buying power from pharmacies and hospitals. This is further driving prices down with some hospitals even going as far as starting their own production of generic drugs to cut out the high costs of dealing with the pharmaceutical industry.

These factors all come together to demonstrate that the previous strong market position held by pharmaceutical producers is slipping. This means that it is the right time to introduce innovative processes to increase efficiency.

The pharmaceutical industry is waking up to the fact that it must adapt, just like the semiconductor, heavy industry, automotive and consumer goods sectors before it. The first task is for pharmaceutical businesses to embark on a continuous improvement campaign and start to get the most out of their production lines.

The first step in getting more out of production is understanding production lines. With concepts such as flexible production lines becoming increasingly popular, pharmaceuticals must be able to adopt these innovative processes to sharpen their competitive edge.

One way to gain deeper knowledge of a production line is by using an IoT platform, such as GE Digital’s Predix, in tandem with smart sensors to analyse data generated by your devices.

With this information in hand, accurate lifecycles can be created for assets. This analysis can help you understand the exact performance of your production assets, allowing you to tap new potential from your production lines.

The analysis will help plant managers to get the most out of underused assets by showing if there is the potential to using pieces of equipment in multiple production lines.

By knowing the lifecycle of machinery, it will allow for planned downtime. Planned downtime is much shorter and less disruptive to production than unplanned downtime caused by faults or breakdowns. The IoT platform also make use of data available from the control systems to minimise the amount of data entry from operators or supervisors. This streamlines work procedures, allowing for key employees not to be bogged down in time-consuming, repetitive tasks.

When considering these methods and all that IoT platforms like GE Digital’s Predix can provide, there is a plethora of efficiency raising and cost reduction solutions that pharmaceutical production can embrace.

Reducing unexpected downtime and increasing asset reliability are good first steps, however there are many other methods that can be introduced. With this knowledge, we can make it so the new day dawning on the pharmaceutical industry is a pleasant one.