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Could smart manufacturing be an antidote to pharma industry challenges?

Article-Could smart manufacturing be an antidote to pharma industry challenges?

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Five vital reasons that suggest smart manufacturing may hold the key to resolving the industry’s multifaceted concerns.

From the discovery of penicillin in the early 20th century to the development of today’s cutting-edge biologics, the pharmaceutical industry has always been at the forefront of science and innovation.

Presently, this industry is grappling with multifaceted issues, ranging from regulatory hurdles to supply chain disruptions. High research and development costs, coupled with stringent quality control measures, add further pressure.

However, smart manufacturing can help the pharma industry overcome these challenges by combining advanced technology with traditional manufacturing processes. What exactly does that look like for pharma? Let’s find out below.

The nexus of pharma and smart manufacturing

The pharmaceutical sector is unique in its demands for precision, quality, and compliance. Medications need to be consistently effective, safe, and of the highest quality. Even minor variations can have significant implications, making it imperative for the industry to operate with unparalleled meticulousness.

Smart manufacturing has steadily become an integral component of the pharmaceutical landscape. With its potential to address complex challenges head-on, it presents innovative solutions that promise to redefine industry standards. From enhanced compliance to supply chain optimisation, smart manufacturing heralds a new era in pharma.

Related: Driving faster vaccine development key to reaping economic benefits

Five key benefits of smart manufacturing for overcoming pharma challenges

Enhanced regulatory compliance

When pharmaceutical companies fail to meet regulatory standards, the consequences are severe. Patient safety becomes vulnerable, leading to potential health hazards. Financially, companies face substantial penalties, while their reputation suffers, impacting trust and future business.

Within smart manufacturing, documentation and record-keeping undergo a revolutionary change. Automation ensures records are precise, consistent, and instantly accessible. This accuracy is critical in an industry where every piece of information can impact patient health.

Smart manufacturing elevates regulatory compliance through data pattern analysis, where potential breaches are identified and addressed even before they manifest. Immediate alerts are a hallmark of smart manufacturing. Should there be a deviation from preset parameters during production, notifications are generated in real-time.

When smart manufacturing systems detect anomalies, corrective measures are rapidly initiated. This level of efficiency reduces operational downtime and ensures continuous production without compromising on quality or safety.

Improved product quality control

The quality of pharmaceutical products directly affects the health of consumers. Subpar products can lead to detrimental health outcomes, making consistent product quality not just a business imperative, but an ethical one. It's essential to maintain and nurture public trust, affirming that the medicines they rely on are both safe and effective.

Advanced monitoring systems in smart manufacturing enable real-time oversight of production processes. Any discrepancies or anomalies are instantly detected, ensuring that each product remains consistent in its quality. By identifying potential issues in advance, companies can address them proactively, ensuring that the end product is always up to standard.

The end goal for every pharmaceutical company is clear: every product, regardless of its batch or production line, must meet the defined quality standards. Smart manufacturing ensures that every batch aligns with quality benchmarks, resulting in consistent, reliable products.

Addressing supply chain complexities

At the foundation of any pharmaceutical product are its raw materials. Their quality and integrity are paramount, and smart manufacturing systems ensure these raw materials consistently meet industry standards.

The integration of the Internet of Things (IoT) in smart manufacturing revolutionises inventory management. Real-time tracking of inventory levels ensures optimal stock management, reducing waste and ensuring availability.

With the ability to track supply chain processes in real-time, companies can anticipate potential disruptions. Advanced analytics further enable mitigation strategies, ensuring smooth operations.

Smart manufacturing promotes enhanced coordination among various supply chain facets. With real-time data and insights, decision-making processes become swifter and more informed, reducing operational lags.

Meeting the rising demand

The global demand for pharmaceutical products is skyrocketing. An ageing population, the rise of new diseases, and global health campaigns are among the primary drivers.

Smart manufacturing allows companies to boost their production rates. Even with this increased throughput, there's no compromise on the quality of products. Smart manufacturing also provides scalable solutions that can adapt to changing market dynamics, ensuring companies remain agile and responsive.

Efficient workflows are a staple of smart manufacturing. These optimised processes cut down production cycles, ensuring faster turnarounds and timely market releases. Incorporating digital twin technologies enables rapid prototyping and testing. This accelerates the development phase, speeding product launches without compromising on quality or safety.

Related: Benefits of connected workers in the pharmaceutical industry

Cost efficiency and resource optimisation

Pharmaceutical companies grapple with balancing research and development expenditures, production costs, and the pressures of market competition. Smart manufacturing offers solutions that streamline expenses without compromising on innovation or quality.

Predictive maintenance, a feature of smart manufacturing, ensures optimal resource allocation by using modern tech solutions — such as a connected worker platform. Predicting equipment maintenance needs minimises unplanned downtime and maximises resource utilisation.

Energy efficiency is central to smart manufacturing. Advanced systems monitor and optimise energy consumption, leading to reduced operational costs and a smaller carbon footprint. Smart manufacturing promotes environmentally friendly initiatives and ensures responsible waste management, which helps organisations align with global sustainability goals.

Harnessing smart manufacturing in pharma

Case study 1: Novartis and continuous manufacturing

Novartis, a leading figure in the pharmaceutical world, adopted continuous manufacturing, a breakaway from the conventional batch production method.

This innovative shift streamlined the company’s production processes, noticeably slashing production times. The method also delivered superior yields, consistent quality, and the ability to quickly adapt to market demands.

With real-time monitoring and data analytics, Novartis swiftly pinpointed and rectified process inconsistencies. Its journey showcases the transformative potential of smart manufacturing within the pharma industry.

Case study 2: Johnson & Johnson and supply chain visibility

Challenges with supply chain visibility posed hurdles for Johnson & Johnson, given its expansive global operations. Turning to the advantages of smart manufacturing, the company incorporated IoT sensors and sophisticated analytics.

This move granted them immediate insights across their supply chain, from the origins of raw materials to the dispatch of the final product. Immediate access to this data facilitated quick, informed decision-making, preempting potential supply chain disruptions and guaranteeing on-time deliveries.

Enhanced transparency also promoted improved stakeholder communication and collaboration, highlighting the value of smart manufacturing in refining complex supply chain operations.


Smart manufacturing is a transformative force in the pharmaceutical industry. Addressing challenges from regulatory compliance to supply chain complexities, it promises enhanced quality control, cost efficiency, and resource optimisation.

As the global demand for pharmaceuticals grows, integrating these advanced technologies is the new imperative. This means that embracing smart manufacturing is not just a strategic move — it is the path to a safer, more efficient, and more innovative future in healthcare.

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For over 30 years, Eric Whitley has been a noteworthy leader in the manufacturing space. In addition to the many publications and articles Eric has written on various manufacturing topics, you may know him from his efforts leading the Total Productive Maintenance effort at Autoliv ASP or from his involvement in the Management Certification programmes at The Ohio State University, where he served as an adjunct faculty member. After an extensive career as a reliability and business improvement consultant, Eric joined L2L, where he currently serves as the Director of Smart Manufacturing. His role in this position is to help clients learn and implement L2L’s pragmatic and simple approach to corporate digital transformation. 

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