Why is the application of IoT in Pharma companies important? It’s because future-facing companies within most of the sectors are in a hurry to implement Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and the pharma industry is no exception. It has become so evident in recent years and especially during the pandemic that smart devices have a role to play in everything within the pharma industry, be it notifying the patients to take the correct amount of medication at the right time or be it creating rich, reliable, and real-time data flows that can prove to be revolutionary in the development of new treatments and drugs.
From smart pills to implanted devices to wearables, this new flow of technologies seeping into the pharma space is potentially transformational for all the patients as well as the pharma companies who aim to change the way they had been working for so long for a competitive edge and for the betterment of the services being offered to their patients. In fact, the forecasts suggest that $251 billion in pharma sales could be at risk by 2024 due to the stubbornness of the old pharma giants in accepting the new wave of technological advancement within the ways most companies function.
SO, then question that pharma companies could pose is how can IoT improve the way they function?
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Smart maintenance of equipments
One potential pitfall in drug manufacturing is rooted in equipment. There can be many reasons for an asset’s failure, such as mechanical damage, excessive voltage, chemical deterioration, unstable environment, and a lack of maintenance.
Since pharmaceutical companies cannot risk unplanned equipment shutdown and afford to throw the batches out, they need the 24/7 real-time status monitoring opportunity.
Thankfully, IoT does precisely that, bounding the machinery pieces across the company’s facilities and continuously updating their status information on such equipments and their components.
The information gathered by the sensors can be used for planning maintenance and repair, avoiding critical issues, minimizing downtime, and also ensuring workplace safety. In addition, the acquired data can create a full picture of the equipment utilization. Such an overview can serve as a basis for the equipment write-off or modernization to optimize performance and reduce waste. Combined with AI, such a system makes a perfect foundation for predictive maintenance of equipment.
Smart and automated manufacturing environment
Suboptimal environmental conditions can be fatal for drug manufacturing. Luckily, they can also be easily handled with the help of IoT. IoT implementation within pharma company’s manufacturing processes can bring in transparency into drug production and storage environment by enabling multiple sensors to monitor in real time multiple environmental indicators like light, temperature level, pressure, gas levels, radiations, etc.
All the gathered information can be continuously updated on a dashboard allowing the lab supervisor to get a quick environment overview and take appropriate measures, if needed. Integrated with a climate control system, this data can also trigger automatic adjustments. In case of a disaster, such as a toxic substance leakage, the connected system will alert the staff ensuring timely evacuation.
Smart IoT sensors can be placed on the walls inside the building or directly on drug packaging. These sensors can be used not only for manufacturing process control but further down the supply chain, right to the patient’s house.
Supply chain monitoring and management
After a drug is manufactured, the supply chain reaction starts to unwind. From shipment to transit and delivery into pharmacies or hospitals, there is a risk of encountering an unexpected difficulty. The sudden temperature fluctuations, vehicle accidents, conveyance losses, and other sudden delays can hurt both patients and pharma companies.
To ensure an unhampered supply chain, pharma companies need to be aware of the drug’s route details. IoT can offer this extraordinary visibility into all processes in real-time, allowing for immediate actions and cutting on delays. There are already apps for logistics companies to help them track their shipments carefully but for the pharma company, keeping a track on their supply needs to be more cutting-edge.
Starting from packing the batches and sending them off, each package can be marked with smart labels and RFID tags for facilitated identification. Each batch will be distinguished; thus its final destination can be easily defined.
During the transit, the GPS-embedded vehicles will continuously update their location, enhancing the shipment visibility. The additional sensors can also offer an insight into the vehicle performance to exclude dangerous breakdowns.
If the compound is temperature-dependent, smart sensors for ambiance detection can be added as well, same with pressure and humidity. Logging the current conditions and comparing them with the needed variable, the sensors can alert the carrier instantly in case of discrepancy. The timely measures will help to avoid drug discard due to unfulfilled transportation conditions.
Upon the delivery, a complete report comprising all acquired data across the supply chain will then help to elicit the scope of elements needing improvement to make the process even smoother and reduce the time-to-market.
In the use case mentioned above, the introduction of smart sensors in the supply chain also contributed to patient adherence to treatment by reminding the patient to take the drug and informing their caregiver about the temperature conditions in which the drug is stored.
IoT will revolutionize pharma companies
Due to the lack of transparency, the pharma industry may not be able to ensure safe and secure medicine development and distribution at times. This leads to an array of negative outcomes, including drug discard, revenue loss, or even patient mistreatment.
The pressing matter pharma companies have to address is how to achieve more control over their operations within and outside the facilities to remain competitive, optimize time-to-market, avoid shipment delays, and reduce the waste. All that while improving their drugs and helping wider patient groups with higher efficiency.
This is no small challenge to meet, of course. However, the new IoT era allowing for next-level connectivity is ready to provide the pharma companies with the tools to withstand the market demand. IoT connects the environment, people, equipment, and supply chains into one structure, increasing agility, safety, and cost-efficiency in pharma operations.
I had already discussed the impact of IoT technology on your business model in 2020. IoT can indeed change the way Pharma companies function. But the harsh reality is that many companies that start out embracing smart technology with enthusiasm can run into problems.
The reason why IoT initiatives tend to fail is because companies focus too much on the tech, they forget about the people they are initiating these for and also because they lack clear commercial focus and direction.
Ultimately, any smart device will need to have a strong business case underpinning it if it is to have any long-term success. This may sound obvious, but the world of IoT is littered with connected devices and tech start-ups that have failed.
For pharma businesses, devices that automate functions, save money, increase efficiencies and make life easier will be the simplest business cases to establish and implement. These will also most probably prove to be the most effective at their requirements.
Also, just because you can, does not mean you should. Careful understanding of wants and needs should be done before you plan anything.
Two of the largest roadblocks in successful deployment of IoT are legacy tech and a company’s sheer size, which can make it hard to adopt and spread the kind of agile corporate culture that supports the rapid prototyping and development of new digital products and services.
Also, pharma companies have always been used to working in isolation from one another. However, the complexity of IoT tech and the interconnected nature of big data means companies are much more likely to succeed if they are willing to work with other organisations, both within their industry and beyond and achieve much more.
Yet, none of the potential pitfalls around this technology should dissuade pharma companies from investing. It has been predicted that IoT tech in the pharma industry will be worth $2.4 billion by 2020. The issue is more about ensuring you do it right; the above steps along with the right technology partner like Archisys could make all the difference.