Three heads of manufacturing for big pharma affiliates in Puerto Rico elaborate on how digital technology is revolutionising pharma manufacturing processes.
More than half of the world’s top 20 multinational pharma companies conduct manufacturing processes in Puerto Rico, and the island manufactured half of 2018’s best-selling drugs. Some Puerto Rico manufacturing sites have been in operation for more than half a century and have already seen wave upon wave of change. As is the case across all industries, pharma manufacturing processes have been revolutionised by rapidly-changing technology.
The explosion in digital technology and the ability to adapt those technologies to our industry is the single most important trend that will be impacting us in the next 5 to 10 years
Some Puerto Rico-based pharma manufacturing sites see their operations as leading the pack in implementing cutting-edge technologies. Giuseppe Allocca, site leader for two of Pfizer’s manufacturing operations explained to PharmaBoardroom, “As we are a global site, we are one of the leaders within our network when it comes to implementing new technologies in our manufacturing process.”
Digital technology is believed to be one of the biggest drivers of change in the pharma industry, according to Rayne Waller, VP of Manufacturing at Amgen: “The explosion in digital technology and the ability to adapt those technologies to our industry is the single most important trend that will be impacting us in the next 5 to 10 years. The key skills are related to keeping up with trends and technologies that are shaping the manufacturing and operational landscapes, in the present and the future.”
Technology will become an enabler of problem solving
Digital technology has allowed for a rapid transformation from paper-based record-keeping to paperless, saving resources and time across practically all sectors. In pharma manufacturing, paperless batch records can be analysed more efficiently and automatically. In an interview with Victor Cruz, VP of Manufacturing for Lilly del Caribe, he emphasized that “technology will become an enabler of solving problems and we already see an increasing movement towards a paperless environment, with information being recorded digitally. This enables our operators to focus on their core task of manufacturing medicine while the system gathers critical information and calculations for the batch records the operator has to do manually today. This transformation is a journey and we are currently in the process of installing a system, where all the information is centralized. We aim to have the approval for batches to be happening automatically, as the system has enough checks and balances to guarantee that the batch information is accurate. For an insulin-manufacturing facility like PR5, this is essential.”
Another benefit of implementing digital technology is the ability to automate processes, as explained by Allocca: “I see flexible automation as one of the key trends in our industry, which means increasing the automation of our plants while remaining flexible in our operations.”
One key trend of 2019 has been the idea that artificial intelligence and big data can transform the pharma industry through better process control and analysis. Allocca highlighted the benefits of big data, “Another trend will be the use of big data, which is something that we are looking to also implement here at Pfizer in Puerto Rico. The opportunities that come along with collecting and analyzing information in real-time are nearly endless and will give us a better process understanding and process control, which will allow us to continue to provide the best quality to our patients.”
The opportunities that come along with collecting and analyzing information in real-time are nearly endless
Cruz believes robotics and AI will play an increasingly important role in pharma manufacturing, “In other areas, technologies such as robotics will be more impactful, particularly in parental facilities with huge volumes and movements of products. For the next five years, artificial intelligence and robotics are the most significant advances, and I really think we see the value of it, as it allows our engineers and scientists to troubleshoot and anticipate problems.”
There is no doubt that technology is influencing the way people and companies work. Looking to the future, Giuseppe Allocca predicts that “Technology will change not only my role but the tasks of all employees involved in the manufacturing process. The industry and the responsibilities of workers were completely different forty years ago and both will continue to evolve, as we bring new technologies into our process. We need to evolve and adapt our operations, but the human element will always have a key role.”
Some, such as Victor Cruz, believe technology can enable greater human connection if harnessed appropriately, “I believe that through using technology, executives will be able to spend more time with people, by staying closer to the floor. While there is a risk of not applying technology the right way and disconnect employees rather than bringing them closer together, I believe technology will be a great enabler. Executives and site heads will have more real-time information about what is going on on the floor, which also makes it easier to manage facilities from the distance.”