“Innovation” is one of the most prevalent buzzwords that companies across all industries use to describe themselves and their company culture. From mission statements to brand and positioning, Biopharmaceutical companies are no exception to this rule. When the curtain is pulled back, however, there are critical areas in which the biopharma industry has been slow to innovate and where it must change to thrive moving forward. Of crucial importance is the resistance to innovation and improvement seen in manufacturing process engineering. The industry seems to be hamstrung by the fear of progress and the lack of desire to embrace the digital, agile, and demanding future. Continued resistance to these types of changes will inevitably lead to increased costs, lower profit, and loss of business opportunities in the worst-case scenario.
With all this at stake, it’s essential to understand why this internal conflict exists. Historically, more traditional industries like biopharmaceutical manufacturing are slower to adopt new processes and digitization. Often, these kinds of changes can be seen as more risk than they are worth. The mentality is something like, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” The trouble with this thinking is that it ignores the problem, waiting until the damage has been done to make a move.
Strict cost controls are one of the factors contributing to innovation paralysis. Biopharmaceutical manufacturers are primarily concerned with creating a quality product within a specified timeframe. They are less concerned with the process efficiencies or manufacturing costs unless an apparent problem arises with product profitability. Why risk making a change that might do more harm than good? While this is an understandable position (difference equals risk, after all), it doesn’t allow for growth and improvement in areas where process engineering can thrive.
Another issue is found in the lack of desire to embrace new technology. Advances in digital have happened rapidly in the last several years, leaving some biopharma manufacturers in the dust or with digital whiplash. Many manufacturers are still bogged down by paper and spreadsheet-based analytics and tools. These manual processes are less accurate and more prone to error than data collected using sensors and other digital means. Disconnected data sources can also lead to what’s known as data silos – disparate sources of information that cannot be easily compared, contrasted, and analyzed to identify relevant trends and specific places for improvement.
Socially created information silos often mirror these digital data silos. In many biopharmaceutical manufacturing companies, there is not enough cross-department communication. These conversations between R&D chemists and process engineers are vital for sparking informed innovation to existing processes. From start to finish, a full understanding of what is required for accurate, efficient manufacturing of products must become a standard part of the system to construct positive changes within the industry.
If biopharma manufacturers can overcome these hurdles and step into what’s been termed “Pharma 4.0,” there are significant advantages available.
For example, enhanced flexibility will mean that manufacturers will be able to take advantage of innovative technologies more quickly. Advances in cell and gene therapies, among others, and new FDA guidelines require manufacturers to pivot and adapt more rapidly than ever before. A facility that can’t handle a variety of products or which can’t adhere to the strict quality standards the industry is held to will likely see an increase in cost and an eventual loss of customers to competitors better suited to meet these demands. On the other hand, a facility that is comfortable with innovation will be able to continuously improve product development, save costs, and remain highly competitive. This has been seen frequently through the ways companies have approached the COVID 19 crisis – companies that adapt, evolve and demonstrate agility have experienced more profitability and stability during times of economic uncertainty.
According to research, digitizing just the supply chain portion of manufacturing can boost revenue by close to 10% and result in a similar increase in market valuation. Cost savings like these are available in almost every aspect of biopharma manufacturing as processes are improved, and data are moved to a more Internet of Things (IoT) friendly approach. Companies that invested in these upgraded, digital solutions tend to benefit from better inventory management, enhanced fulfillment processes, lessened data issues, increased productivity, and generally improved relationships with customers and vendors.
Overall the message seems clear – the industry must step out of its way and embrace change and innovation if manufacturers want to keep up with modern demands.
Learn more about how Liquidyne Process Technologies can help support your process manufacturing needs by contacting us today!