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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Tomorrow’s Technology Today

Manufacturing is on the brink of a new industrial era, perhaps a fourth industrial revolution – spearheaded by the digital technologies of the future. Although UK manufacturing slowed during the latter months of 2015, the pharmaceutical industry has held its own coping with its unique challenges, namely increased global competition and a fast-evolving regulatory environment. The best way to tackle these twin issues is to strongly invest in tomorrow’s technology today and increase productivity.

Technology has always played an important role, with advanced digital platforms helping to usher in productivity gains in the pharma and life sciences sectors, while also controlling costs and contributing to the UK’s global competitiveness. Technology also helps economies to innovate and grow, to genuinely do things better, and to build on the UK’s proud industrial heritage.

The pharma manufacturing landscape is under increasing pressure from a global market, with requirements for companies to prepare for serialisation and track and trace regulations in 2017. Simultaneously, the need for flexible manufacturing continues to rise, with an ongoing emphasis on driving down cost. Pharma manufacturers and technology specialists must work in partnership to consider how technology’s many benefits can be best utilised to address these challenges. To ensure the UK is a worthy and successful competitor on the global manufacturing stage, investment in innovation must be a priority to ensure productivity boosts and cost reductions.

Growing Skills Shortage

According to the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (1), the pharma industry contributes more to the UK economy than would be possible if other industrial sectors used the same resources. In other words, the people and capital employed in pharma earn more income for the UK than they would if they were in any other sector of the economy. Despite this, employers are experiencing difficulties in recruiting the right people with nearly twice as many likely to report a hard-to-fill vacancy than in other sectors, stifling growth. The rise of digitalisation and automation is causing more demand for high-skilled roles, and with the UK facing a shortage of workers proficient in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, advances in these areas are at risk if employees with the right skills are not at hand.

Within the pharma industry, an ageing demographic and skills shortage places doubt on whether the number of engineering scientists or laboratory technicians needed to support manufacturers will be available in the future. The industry requires 100,000 new recruits every year to replace the retiring baby boomer generation; a challenge recognised by Westminster, which is responding by calling for greater uptake of apprenticeship schemes. New plans were recently announced by the British Government to help it reach its pledge to create three million apprenticeships by 2020 (2) – this is certain to benefit the pharma industry, which is keen to encourage more apprentices into the sector.

Loss of Productivity

Productivity, a measure of output per capita per hour, is currently marginally lower than the pre-crisis peak – an alarming admission, especially at a time of significant technological change that is intended to fuel major improvements in workplace efficiency. This distinct absence in productivity in the seven years since 2007 means that the economy is £144 billion worse off.

For the pharma industry, the goal is to increase manufacturing productivity while alleviating any future skills shortages, and the procurement of automated technology will be key to supporting this. Production and packaging lines are often manually driven due to the use of traditional original equipment manufacturer technology and the need for manual intervention and operators. This process can be automated, however, and driven by robotics – providing an opportunity to increase productivity and reduce costs.

No matter how long manufacturers try to ‘sweat an asset’, over time, legacy hardware or software becomes more susceptible to production shutdowns and parts will need to be sourced and replaced. This creates a problem that pharma manufacturers must consider: what would the potential cost be from a lost batch on the production line? It could set companies back millions of pounds, and with the regulatory measures that pharma is facing, it is imperative to ensure that the same granular approach to production processes is applied to technology procured to combat against the risk of loss.

The Future of Manufacturing

With so much at stake, employing a partnership approach to infrastructure improvements will be key to mitigating risk, understanding the benefits of switching to new, high-quality solutions and providing enhanced reporting. Procuring the latest technology through authorised routes will ensure specialist sector expertise is delivered to the pharma industry, so manufacturers are protected from downtime and a drop in revenue.

For the UK to be worthy and successful competitors on the global manufacturing stage, more investment needs to be made across its entire ecosystem. There must be a fresh focus on supplying proven technology that will boost manufacturing productivity and reduce costs. In order to drive productivity gains, while reducing manufacturing costs by 2020, the pharma sector must ensure it is working closely with local technology experts. These have the capability to provide specialist insight, access to the latest technology and services to ensure a firm focus on supporting business growth.

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Alwyn Jones is the Head of Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences UK and Ireland for Siemens' Digital Factory, Process and Drive division.
Alwyn Jones
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