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4 Ways Industry 4.0 Tech Reimagines Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing

Advancements in biopharmaceutical manufacturing could positively impact this generation and future ones. That’s why people working in this sector continually look for ways to make meaningful improvements. One of the ways they do so is to seek out opportunities related to automated biopharmaceutical manufacturing and other high-tech enhancements. Here are some of the most compelling options for bringing this sector into the world of Industry 4.0.

1. Robots Tackle Aseptic Filling Tasks

Aseptic processing is common in the biopharmaceutical industry because it results in shelf-stable products. Robots are particularly well-suited to aseptic filling tasks because they perform consistently and get the job done with limited or no human intervention.

Life sciences company Cytiva appears to have gotten favourable results with its use of robots for that task. In the summer of 2022, news broke that the company increased its manufacturing capacity by more than 200% by opening a new facility in Vancouver, Canada. The site will focus on creating robotic work cells for aseptic filling tasks.

A new aseptic filling facility at a Taiwanese biotechnology plant shows what’s possible when the industry invests in robots. The system boasts a filling precision rate of 99.99%, making it suitable for high-value biopharmaceutical liquids.

This system is reportedly the first of its kind. It’s notable for using a gloveless robotic arm capable of a fully automated process. Thus, that approach significantly reduces contamination risks and eliminates issues associated with human error.

2. Data Analytics Tools Support Automated Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing

Many technologies associated with Industry 4.0 also allow decision-makers to gain insights that previously remained hidden or overly cumbersome to obtain. People in the biopharmaceutical industry are also eager to improve tracking capabilities in the sector.

Starting in the mid-90s, researchers proposed using barcodes for biomolecular identification. Then, more than a decade later, people tried working with barcoded magnetic beads because of their biocompatible characteristics. Barcodes continue to play an important role, especially as processes feature more and more automation.

One recent option related to the unit-level traceability of glass containers used in the biopharmaceutical industry. Applying identifiers to them could allow people to see the time and date when an individual container got filled, how long it took and which machine did the job. It’s then easier to see which devices are most instrumental to overall operations, which can help decision-makers choose when to upgrade or retire equipment.

Tools to collect and analyze data can also enable automated biopharmaceutical manufacturing by creating digital twins — digitized versions of real-life assets. People working in the biopharmaceutical industry say digital twins are particularly useful for process optimization and control. Automating even a single step in a biopharmaceutical process can be much more involved than individuals realize at the start.

Digital twins can help factory leaders see what they need to do to scale up automated operations. They also make it easier to spot bottlenecks or similar issues that could otherwise limit the success of automation-related efforts.

Data analysis also becomes beneficial when leaders have doubts about what to automate and when. Specialized tools can process vast quantities of information much faster than people could without that technological assistance. The results could highlight which manufacturing processes are currently inefficient or otherwise good candidates for automation.

3. Cloud Databases Give Better Visibility

Cloud computing is another essential aspect of improvements in the biopharma sector. Many companies have branches worldwide, so if a person has the login credentials for a cloud computing platform, they can access up-to-date content regardless of location.

The platforms also support those who want to monitor processes remotely. Consider that a single biotech experiment may generate dozens of samples, each requiring individual analysis. Such situations are ideal candidates for automated biopharmaceutical manufacturing. A person could engage in off-site monitoring of the process via the cloud, and then ask someone to supervise what’s happening at a facility only if something goes wrong.

Various industrial sectors also use real-time data to improve maintenance strategies for critical equipment. Data about unusual operating temperatures, vibrations or other statistics can go straight to the cloud for immediate processing and analysis.

Getting data from the cloud is also particularly important for the employees of some biopharma companies working remotely. Many did during the COVID-19 pandemic, although that was largely temporary. Cloud computing lets people get the company resources they need from anywhere with internet access. Such accessibility also promotes better collaboration across distributed teams.

4. 3D Printing Provides an Emerging Manufacturing Option

3D printing has recently gained momentum because of how it allows people to make products much faster than they could with traditional methods. Thus, many manufacturing leaders use 3D printers for prototyping. Some also rely on them for the on-site production of spare parts. That approach is often more efficient than ordering them from supply chain partners, especially with many supply chains still experiencing issues.

In one biotech-related example of what’s possible, Israeli researchers 3D-printed a human heart using the patient’s biological materials. The result was a heart that matched the anatomical, cellular and biochemical needs of the person receiving it.

Companies are also focusing on 3D-printing personalized drugs to meet patients’ needs. It’s then possible to get the proper dosage, size and even flavour for a particular person. Some businesses working in this space even print patterns or braille on the pills so people with visual impairments can take them safely.

Such developments are still in the early stages. Thus, it could take a while before they significantly impact automated biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Even so, the things learned during these efforts should prove valuable as companies scale up their processes and find what works best for meeting real-world requirements.

Automated Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing Is Worth Exploration

It will take time, effort and forethought to determine the best ways to pursue automated biopharmaceutical manufacturing. Decision-makers must set budgets, priorities and goals to give these initiatives the best chance of success.

It’s also essential to prepare for obstacles. Even the best-laid Industry 4.0 plans often pose unforeseen challenges. Those are usually not impossible to handle, but they may require more investments or longer timelines to solve.

Another best practice is to see how peers in biopharmaceutical manufacturing have used automation so far. Learning from their experiences can help people plan their initiatives with more confidence.

The biopharmaceutical sector was not historically an early adopter of automation. However, more leaders are realizing it could help. That means there’s no better time to be open to using it and start exploring the possibilities.

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over six years experience writing articles for the tech and industrial sectors. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily at
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