According to a new white paper from PMMI Business Intelligence, “Pharmaceutical Manufacturing, Trends Shaping The Industry,” this visibility is achieved by expanding the amount of digitized data being collected on machines and finding meaningful ways to analyze and utilize that data to drive operational efficiency.
This is easier said than done, however: the expansion of data collection and analysis often requires significant operational changes that are both costly and time consuming. To assist manufacturers on their digitization journey, suppliers can frame the process as a gradual, stepped approach that is more palatable to pharmaceutical companies.
The first steps in this process involve expanding data collection through the addition of smart sensors on machines, which can be gradually integrated to increase the level of data gathered. These improvements can yield tools such as real-time views of OEE, downtimes, and production levels.
As integration increases and data expands, suppliers can guide manufacturers in how to interpret and utilize accumulated data. Analyzing this “big data” can have significant benefits for manufacturers, increasing efficiency and decreasing waste in processes across operations.
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Blockchain: The Future Is Now
One cutting edge technology expanding access to digitized data is blockchain, a form of distributed ledger technology. A secure, immutable ledger, blockchain technology can enable pharmaceutical manufacturers to address a number of challenges faced in the utilization and security of their proprietary data.
For instance, blockchain is an extremely powerful tool for serialization, enabling products to be accurately tracked through production, storage, and distribution to protect against counterfeit, tampering, expiry dates, environmental damage, and recall requirements. Only 27% of companies interviewed are currently using blockchain, all of whom are utilizing distributed ledger technology for product tracking and inventory management applications.
The majority of pharmaceutical companies interviewed are either not using blockchain or remain unfamiliar with how blockchain works, signaling future opportunities for both education and deployment of this technology.
“We are using blockchain now for incoming product supply data, but not for any production data at this time.”— Production Engineer, Large OTC Manufacturer
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Product tracking with blockchain can be taken one step further by allowing stakeholders across the pharmaceutical industry access to production and distribution data, all without compromising data integrity or divulging proprietary processes – in fact, the data itself never leaves the control of the company managing it. An example of the power of this system can be seen in the UK National Health Services (NHS) rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, in which two hospitals in the UK utilized distributed ledger technology to track the movement of COVID-19 vaccines in the supply chain.
Because of the nature of the ledger itself, this enabled the data to be tracked by a wide variety of stakeholders – from hospitals and pharmacies to pop-up vaccination sites – without compromising its integrity, accuracy, or security. Most notably, this data repository tracked not just barcode verification to combat counterfeiting, but also thermal sensors, allowing organizations administering the vaccine to verify their shipments were never compromised by temperature fluctuations.
As blockchain usage grows, it is likely that entirely new applications and uses will be found, with the potential to greatly increase cooperation amongst all stakeholders in the pharmaceutical industry, according to the new white paper.