By Per Lidén
Since the dawn of manufacturing, we have seen several different industrial revolutions, all enabled by a significant leap in productivity. Each of these revolutions marked a major shift in the economy and changed the way companies do business to meet the demands of their customers. The last big revolution came with the introduction of computers on manufacturing lines. This gave way to the advent of automation, which increases efficiency and speed and minimizes process variability caused by humans. While slower to adopt automation than other industries, the pharmaceutical industry continues to find ways to use it for improving quality and speed to market. Now, another transformation is taking place that will pave the way for even more changes to how the industry approaches drug manufacturing.
In the latest phase, often referred to as Industry 4.0, cyber-physical systems control and monitor activity through computer-based algorithms. While this may seem like science fiction for an industry that is arguably still working through the former industrial revolution, the benefits of embracing it are too substantial to ignore. Experts expect this revolution to trigger a quantum leap in productivity, as these connected machines and software systems can enhance the human workforce in new and exciting ways. In bioprocessing, there are a plethora of possibilities that could be realized over time through this revolution. For example, in the near future, it can be expected that the tools of Industry 4.0 will minimize maintenance downtime and spare part inventory for process equipment and enable the continuous improvement of process robustness and efficiency.