As featured in Contract Pharma by Dave Mierau, Principal
The path to more sustainable operations is paved with technology, but it starts with people.
Sustainable manufacturing. Once seen as a “nice to have”, today it’s a business imperative. No longer can the pharma industry continue to operate without considering how their manufacturing process impacts the environment. Profitability no longer has to come at the expense of sustainability. Not only can these both co-exist, but sustainability can actually be your company’s cost-saving secret weapon.
If you’re running a pharma plant today, your top priority is probably cost reduction. But to stay competitive in this global commercial manufacturing industry you need to consider how sustainability can be factored into your manufacturing process. If your big pharma contracts aren’t demanding it now, they probably will be soon. Reducing GHG emissions, increasing worker safety, ensuring the unimpeded flow of data, more transparency across supply chains and using less resources all seem like great goals. But figuring out the most direct path to success for even one of these, can be daunting. Even as sustainability moves toward becoming embedded in company strategy and ESG policy, many pharma manufacturers have yet to evaluate how they can effectively implement these practices.
Sustainable manufacturing isn’t just some lofty goal, only to be achieved with the latest clean technology or big investment in renewable energy. Those things may help move the needle, but there’s also another approach. It’s called a smart culture – a systematic transformation where the people, processes, equipment and technology all work together. A smart culture can drive the productivity needed to reshape operations. With that, comes an opportunity to be better, and do better – for both the environment and your bottom line.
Shifting to a new, sustainable way of operating
An uncertain economy, soaring energy costs, labor shortages, increased competition to be first to market, inflation, and supply chain concerns – the pharmaceutical industry is facing the same challenges that many other industries have experienced in the past. Manufacturing businesses are under constant pressure to deliver consistent products at lower costs, all while keeping productivity and reliability at an all-time high. Now, there is greater pressure put on the contract pharma industry to not just meet regulatory compliance, but increase their environmental performance as well.
While other industries are focused on meeting ESG targets, contract pharma has been slower to walk down the sustainability path. Cost reduction and compliance have taken the forefront over the years. Unlike other industries, consumers haven’t generally demanded that pharmaceutical products be made “greener.” But the industry is experiencing a shift in thinking. Investors are increasingly looking to ESG practices, and as a result, many leading pharma companies have already made ambitious carbon neutrality and net-zero pledges.
Still, there can be a reluctance to look at sustainability as an investment, rather than a cost. What’s good for the environment can also be good for business, but many new innovative solutions and technologies take years to show a return on investment. When we reframe the mindset and focus on making operations better, faster, cheaper, and safer – we can not only improve the bottom line, but experience the environmental benefits as well.
Digitization can only be successful when you start with the fundamentals
Digitization initiatives in the pharma industry have created tremendous opportunity to establish new levels of productivity, safety, and sustainability. However the industry has seen mixed results – some efforts being abandoned while others succeeding. And while many companies are deploying digital technologies like AI, virtual reality, and data analytics, very few are effectively leveraging them. What does this prove? We may have the technology to help us build a better system and a greener future – but we aren’t really using it to the best of its ability.
Many companies are starting to pursue the digital route as the answer to their problems. You now have sensors on all your machines, capturing and analzying hundreds of data points every minute. But the question remains – what do you do with all the information? While data can successfully identify impending failures, many manufacturers fail to achieve their goals of improved asset reliability and reduced costs due to lack of management around data collection and reporting. Data quality related to asset management is critical. Bad data can lead to increased costs, poor decision-making and even loss of revenues.
This is why establishing the right processes is critical. Instead of worrying about buying the latest piece of equipment, start with the fundamentals. Without the right business processes and key data points, it’s unlikely you’ll ever reach your goals. This could include developing standard operating procedures for ensuring and managing data quality. It could also be identifying individuals that are properly trained and certified to analyze the data. Many pharma companies are also creating digital teams that are a combination of data scientists and process experts. Bringing in a third party service provider can help you analyze the information, understanding fault codes and helping to identify issues.
Thinking about sustainability? Think asset reliability
Pharma is a complex industry–multiple sites, different management processes, and a diverse asset mix. Businesses are under extreme pressure to get more value from their assets. But it may not always mean purchasing a new piece of equipment. Investing in agnostic software systems that can operate across hundreds of various equipment manufacturers allows for greater access to preventative and predictive maintenance solutions. This can help make data-driven decisions and improve quality, productivity and profitability. These programs can also lead to reduced energy consumption by ensuring the overall plant is operating at optimal efficiency – optimizing resources and reducing issues around bottlenecks in processes and temperature inaccuracies.
Manufacturers and facility operators often struggle to cost-effectively maintain safe and reliable operations for their critical assets. A huge portion of manufacturing operational costs are incurred by the energy required to run equipment. While your assets may be critical to the running of your operation, they’re often using more energy than needed. This is one of the key reduction areas contract manufacturers can focus on. With better asset management, you can lower energy usage, increase efficiency, and drive productivity.
If you want better sustainability, a smart culture is where you start
Adopting the right tools and technologies can provide substantial benefits to the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry. Without technology the industry simply can’t tackle the growing pressure of streamlining their businesses for better sustainability. Your journey to digitization may have already begun, but for long-lasting success you need to take into account not just digital technology but the whole picture of your company’s operations. It may be time to create a smart culture.
So what does creating a smart culture look like? It’s your fixed assets–the technologies you deploy, the work processes you follow, and it’s your people. That means assets, processes, people, and technology. Digitization isn’t enough if you’re not planning for how your people will approach new ways of working. You may have engineers that have been operating the same way for decades, now you’re informing them they have to change how they do things. How will you go about that and ensure employees remain engaged in the process? Education and training is a key part of success and is the golden thread of employee engagement. It can set the stage for the cultural change that must occur, building awareness of what operational excellence looks like within your plant. Only then can you achieve more efficient operations, reduce costs, and improve reliability.
How you go about implementing a smart culture is the next step. It starts with goal deployment and developing a roadmap to success. Begin with the end in mind and map out your current and future state. Maybe your goal is to reduce your energy consumption, which is one of the key actions companies can take in the energy-intensive manufacturing process. To do this, you need to know where you’re starting from – measuring and capturing your baseline. Establishing this process can often be the most challenging. This is where adopting best practices for asset management reliability comes into play. Your plant may have several large sites with hundreds of pieces of equipment, all operating at different times and various departments all receiving different energy bills. This is where addressing your fundamental business processes comes into play. The right technology can enable the monitoring needed to lower energy usage, while offering clear, actionable insights. Leveraging and optimizing the best available technology will be key to your success but ensuring your processes are in alignment with your physical assets and organizational strategy is the only way you are able to make the bold changes needed to push the needle.
Future proof your business by focusing on sustainability as the goal
The contract manufacturing industry is under constant pressure to produce more with less and do so safely and sustainably. Optimizing the performance of operations, driving greater ROI and ultimately shareholder value, is of top priority – but no longer can these things come at the expense of the environment.
Today there is greater opportunity than ever to leverage assets to establish new levels of sustainability. But in order to capture the opportunity, we need more emphasis on getting the fundamentals in place. Once you accomplish this, the promise of a smart culture can become a reality–where everything works together to produce exactly what we need.
You may already have the right equipment, data, and technology in place to help you build a better system. But the only way you’ll reach your goals is when your people and processes work together to drive greater efficiency and contribute to a greener manufacturing industry.