by Dr Chantelle Kiernan, Senior Scientific Advisor - Innovation & Digital Transformation, IDA Ireland
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the world in various ways but one unexpected result has been hastening the movement toward Industry 4.0, also called lights-out manufacturing, in the biopharmaceutical and med-tech industries. Technologies such as cloud computing, AI, SAAS, machine learning, robotics and advanced enterprise software are facilitating this journey. According to a 2020 McKinsey report, manufacturers are reconfiguring their supply chains and their production lines to future-proof processes, with some companies that were moving toward digitization now taking an accelerated leap in that direction during 2020.
Just as working from home and using electronic technologies to connect remotely have become hallmarks of the current pandemic for regular professionals, digitally enabled factory automation has begun increasing rapidly in many industries during 2020 which is why Production Machining reported that shops can begin lights-out manufacturing without making a huge investment and improve continuously from there.
Many American companies have long-established operations in Ireland such as J&J, Boston Scientific, Abbott, Pfizer and more. Med-tech has been an early mover towards lights-out manufacturing because of its impact on driving productivity, particularly in a discrete manufacturing environment through better connecting systems and technologies. The sector that can have bigger challenges is pharmaceutical businesses saddled with more mature plants and processes. However, the impact of Covid-19 has, oddly, been a rare blessing when it comes to accelerating deployment of the factory of the future. Top technologies facilitating this movement are AI, ML and advanced automation and robotics.
For example, Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen, a pharmaceutical manufacturing company with an operation in Cork, is launching a project there aimed at increasing capability for some of the active pharmaceutical ingredients ultimately used in tablets, creams or injectable dosage forms. Janssen is implementing robotics and advanced automation in which they can take data off the line to get better process understanding, applying smart data, analytics and AI to predict how the line might run in the future. The result will be increased throughput, efficiency and reduced inventory.
Another example is Novartis and Microsoft. At the end of 2019, they began collaborating on ways to greatly short-circuit the long, costly process of developing new prescription drugs, utilizing Microsoft's advanced AI technology with Novartis' life-sciences expertise. The companies plan to use the AI for drug development, from research and clinical trials to manufacturing and operation. An early focus is new treatments for macular degeneration and new gene and treatment therapies for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Using AI will make these activities less costly.
The demand for digitally enabled manufacturing to drive agility, resilience and efficiency has been noticed by countries such as Ireland. To meet the emerging need for next generation production resources in 2021, a new Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC) will open in Limerick, Ireland. Given so many firms are doing due diligence on the operational requirements to support advanced manufacturing, the AMC will focus on helping companies understand where they might implement emerging production technologies and digital platforms in order to transition current manufacturing into new generation digitalized operations. Increased collaborations across industry sectors such as technology, medical devices and engineering will be critical in delivering next generation manufacturing solutions and will require the availability of next generation skills. Centres such as the AMC will provide a resource for facilitating such collaborations and for upskilling the industrial workforce.
The Industry 4.0 advancements taking place among life-sciences firms worldwide herald a lights-out approach to manufacturing in which intelligent technology and advanced networking with interconnected internal mechanisms transform factory processes. It's ironic that a global pandemic helped hasten the move to tomorrow's automated factories.
Dr Chantelle Kiernan is a senior scientific advisor in innovation and digital transformation for IDA Ireland. In this role she identifies new research, development and innovation (RD&I) based investments for Ireland. In particular, she works with global companies to help them identify and implement innovation and R&D projects in Ireland. She can be contacted on: Chantelle.Kiernan@ida.ie
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