The COVID pandemic has caused upheaval in almost every industry and has impacted individuals and businesses in dramatic ways. Most of what is in the news regarding this virus’s effect has been appropriately gloomy, given the cost to human life and society as a whole. What has been historically accurate of crises, though, is that they eventually drive innovation. The biopharmaceutical manufacturing industry, which has struggled to adopt process engineering changes without significant external motivation, stands to benefit tremendously from the pressure that COVID has applied to the market.
As with the race for a polio vaccine in the early 1950s, the surge in research and development related to COVID has caused a corresponding increase in collaboration. This is a return to what’s seen by some as the true “nature of science.” Rarely, if ever, do scientific discoveries happen in a vacuum. The fact that the industry has been attempting to do without collaboration has slowed innovation and thus stagnated creativity. It’s crucial that scientists and engineers, at all levels, can work together to spark change and solve problems. With any luck, this culture of collaboration will become the new normal.
Investment into biopharma initiatives has also been on the rise since the start of the pandemic, with billions of dollars pouring into COVID related research and development projects. This could imply an uptick in the value placed on these types of efforts and the stability of the biopharma manufacturing industry. Regardless of whether this trend continues after COVID’s resolution, the money invested will help facilitate improvements that will have a ripple effect for years to come.
Perhaps most importantly, though, COVID seems to be providing many manufacturers with the push needed to overcome some of the hurdles traditionally associated with making changes to process engineering and facility design. Cost, reliability, bureaucracy, and perceived risk have stopped some companies from pursuing these changes. However, in this more demanding market climate, improvements that were seen as a “nice to have” are rapidly becoming a “need to have” if manufacturers want to survive and, eventually, thrive. The overarching goal of these types of advancements, which is in alignment with industry trends before COVID became a global issue, is the industry’s need for more flexible solutions, including:
- Smaller, decentralized facilities
- Modular, single-use equipment
- Improved automation
- Enhanced supply chain management
Smaller, decentralized facilities: with the need for rapid development, production, and deployment of biopharma products, more companies embrace a less centralized approach to product manufacturing. The challenges associated with these facilities include the need for standardized training and enhanced company-wide communication. It’s also crucial to choose simple, low start-up-cost equipment to avoid extra expenses. This has caused a steady shift from stainless steel equipment to less permanent, less expensive solutions. These smaller facilities provide an advantage as they can quickly pivot to accommodate changing supply demands and production needs.
Modular, single-use equipment: single-use technology, including pumps, have been increasingly prevalent within biopharma manufacturing for the last several years. The main selling points for single-use equipment include lower cost of maintenance, quicker changeover, and more reliable product integrity. For example, the Quattroflow single-use quaternary diaphragm pump virtually eliminates cross-contamination when used correctly, and components can be switched over in as little as 30 seconds per pump. Depending on the use case, there are a variety of single-use solutions available. Having a dependable supplier who can offer guidance can be an important starting place for companies looking to make the switch.
Improved automation: to maintain production quality and enhance overall facility reliability, biopharma has been pressured for years to ride the Internet of Things (IoT) wave. Sensors, data collection, and feedback loops provide greater insight into every step of the manufacturing process. Pumps with this kind of automation are increasingly available for various uses and often can be customized depending on the application.
Enhanced supply chain management: a recent study of biopharma executives showed that unreliable supply chains are the main concern for many manufacturers. COVID revealed, for many companies, inherent instability within their inventory management and procurement systems. Automation and data-driven solutions for inventory are available and can provide facilities with improved optics and greater control over critical manufacturing inputs. Implementing these solutions may help avoid similar issues in the future. As facilities switch to single-use equipment, having a supplier who can consistently ensure demand is met is also essential. Building that relationship ahead of a crisis is ideal, but many suppliers are eager to earn trust during this tumultuous time.
Overall, there is hope on the horizon for biopharmaceutical manufacturing in a post-COVID world. If the industry chooses to see this crisis as a chance to adapt and grow, it is probable that innovations will be made in leaps and bounds. These improvements will likely have a positive, long-lasting effect on increasing productivity, maintaining quality, and enhancing profitability for manufacturers of all sizes.
Learn more about how Liquidyne Process Technologies can help support your process manufacturing needs by contacting us today!