Among the many reasons for attending industry events – virtually or in person – is the clarity of vision they provide. It’s relatively easy to narrow your focus based solely on what’s going on at your company. But for those looking to widen their perspective at INTERPHEX 2021 in New York City, a handful of consistent themes emerged:
1. Pharma 4.0
The fourth industrial revolution was literally on display throughout the show floor, with many exhibitors going so far as to construct mini-production lines. The soundtrack throughout the three-day event was the whirring of automated equipment as attendees got their hands on new technology featuring the internet of things, artificial intelligence and advanced computing.
But, predictably, the conversation around Pharma 4.0 found its most eager participants in the technical conference sessions. Seats filled quickly for presentations that became standing-room only crowds listening to speakers walk them through:
- Each phase of the digital plant maturity model
- Advanced analytics with contextual data analysis
- Full enterprise visibility, from suppliers to patient outcomes
For any skeptics in the audience – and there didn’t seem to be many – speakers outlined case after case of real-world applications that resulted in greater batch yield and consistency, and major reductions in equipment failures and maintenance tasks.
“Advanced software tools like virtual twins, system emulation and IIoT integration points allow us to design and test systems before they are built, and to test improvements offline in running facilities,” said Rockwell Automation’s Dan UpDyke, whose technical session at the show covered new manufacturing technologies. “We not only shorten the time to bring new products to market, but can reduce downtime for process improvements.”
2. Flexibility and scalability
More overflow sessions awaited speakers ready to outline the keys to flexible, scalable production. Among the terms flying around the conference floor throughout the week were “plug and play,” “modular” and “turnkey.” The industry’s current direction is pretty clear, and companies are eager to snap up solutions with those descriptors that can deliver on three success drivers:
- Risk management
- Cost certainty
- Overall equipment effectiveness
According to one session presenter, 66% of companies are considering a turnkey approach to product delivery, and it’s not difficult to imagine why. A more flexible and agile operation smooths the adoption of significant technological advancements while opening the door to outputs that stay in lockstep with whatever production rate companies determine will maximize their profitability.
“There used to be a joke in the industry: You can have it right, fast, or cheap — pick any two,” said Bruce Kane, who co-led a session on plug-and-play automation for single-use systems. “Now, with the standards and interfaces that are being developed, that is no longer the case. You can have it all: fast, accurate and economical.”
3. Speed to market
Priorities vary from company to company. But, based on the chatter at the show, this one is at or near the top of just about everyone’s list. Organizations are in continuous pursuit of the next advancement that will get products in consumers’ hands more quickly while maintaining quality and compliance. It was no surprise, then, to see the benefit mentioned on promotional materials throughout the show floor.
Session presenters brought it up in a variety of contexts as well, including data collection and facility design. In addition, technologies that accelerate speed-to-market efforts — such as digital thread and a BioPhorum collaboration to address bottlenecks in the production of buffer solutions — got plenty of attention.
“The buffer stock blending system attracted a lot of visitors to our booth,” said Doan Chau after his presentation featuring the BioPhorum project. “I think they recognize how this will revolutionize the scale and speed at which buffers are manufactured in traditional biologics, as well as in the new age of personalized medicines.”