The spotlight on the pharmaceutical industry has perhaps never been greater. As the world races to find an effective vaccine for the COVID-19 virus, the ability of pharmaceutical businesses to work quickly, accurately and effectively – in other words, to be productive– is absolutely critical. But what role does the Internet of Things (IoT) play in enabling such productivity?
Here are some key ideas.
Finding the winning formula
Ultimately, pharmaceutical businesses are trying to find the most effective new formulae to meet particular medical challenges. The more effectively the results of particular experiments, trials or tests can be reported back to a centralised platform or manager, the more rapidly decisions can be taken as to which formulae to proceed with, which to amend or alter, and which to abandon.
This can be achieved by implanting connected sensors into various parts of the pharmaceutical test and production environment, such as laboratory trays which can communicate what has happened when a particular pharmaceutical component is deposited.
Predictive maintenance of equipment
The typical pharmaceutical business incorporates a huge amount of high-value, highly technical equipment, which needs to operate in strict compliance with legal and regulatory frameworks. In turn, this requires a great deal of costly and time-consuming monitoring and maintenance.
IoT sensors can automate a great deal of this maintenance, identifying when particular factors suggest that a piece of equipment needs checking, repairing or upgrading. They can facilitate the shift from reactive to predictive maintenance, extending the useful lifespan of critical pieces of kit and ensuring that maintenance and repairs take place during downtime, therefore extending productivity during core hours.
Accelerating the testing process
Once a proposed pharmaceutical product has gone out to human trials, getting accurate and up-to-the-minute information as to the health of those participants is critical. Wearable and even implanted smart medical devices can be a huge boon in these circumstances, automatically checking and reporting back on key metrics such as temperature and blood pressure. This not only provides pharmaceutical business with information faster, it can also better enable them to collect and analyse that information en masse, leading to better informed clinical trials.
Monitoring the supply chain
Pharmaceutical businesses do not operate in a vacuum. They are highly dependent on the reliability and robustness of often very complex supply chains, not just in terms of delivering the right equipment and raw materials, but also in terms of shipping finished products with appropriate levels of security and the right environmental conditions.
IoT sensors through the supply can automatically and continuously check that such environmental conditions are met and trigger alerts if, say, the temperature of a truck rises too high. This reduces supply chain incidents and offers greater visibility and robustness along the entire chain.
Reducing human error
It is worth underlining that any quality which an IoT sensor is able to monitor, measure and transmit back to a centralised analytics platform – the core mechanism of the IoT – can help reduce human error and inaccuracy, because it is one less thing for a human to manually measure. This enhances productivity in myriad different settings, but is perhaps particularly salient in areas why absolute accuracy is essential and measuring can be fraught – like the pharmaceutical industry.
The whole world is waiting on tenterhooks for a COVID-19 vaccine. Perhaps the IoT will play a critical role in getting us there.