The role of IoT in pharma manufacturing and distribution

Healthcare analyst, Inga Shugalo, shares three use cases for IoT in Pharma, including preventative maintenance, manufacturing control and supply chain monitoring

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Inga Shugalo

If a company strives for innovation, there’s no room for lagging behind with their software. Similarly to AI and machine learning, the internet of things (IoT) provides the pharmaceutical industry with a selection of new opportunities, including; better control of drug manufacturing, preventive maintenance of equipment, and improved supply chain management.

In particular, IoT sensors and trackers can enable optimal conditions for handling biomaterials and chemicals, ensuring flawless equipment operation, and even assisting in drug fraud prevention.

In this article, we share 3 use cases of IoT in the pharmaceutical industry based on the experience of healthcare software development company Itransition.


Enabling preventive maintenance of equipment

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, the internet of things does precisely that, bounding the machinery pieces across the company’s facilities and continuously updating their status information on such equipment’s components as:

  • Pressure gauges
  • pH probes
  • Air compressors
  • Sterilizers
  • Heat exchangers
  • Multi-media filters
  • Vacuum pumps

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.


Controlling drug manufacturing environment

Suboptimal environmental conditions can be fatal for drug manufacturing. Luckily, they can also be easily handled with the help of the internet of things. Pharma IoT can bring in transparency into drug production and storage environment by enabling multiple sensors to monitor in real time multiple environmental indicators, such as:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Light
  • Radiation
  • CO2 level

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.

A Dutch startup AntTail developed small IoT sensors that 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.

This use case drives us to the next application of IoT in pharma.


Facilitating supply chain monitoring

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.

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 360-degree 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 addresses pharma problems

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. The internet of things connects the environment, people, equipment, and supply chains into one structure, increasing agility, safety, and cost-efficiency in pharma operations.