Top Smart Factory Trends in 2021 for the Life Sciences Sector

It is common to look at the trends that will impact smart manufacturing over the next 12 months and beyond at this time of year. We are in unprecedented times, though, making the manufacturing trends that will impact the life sciences sector in 2021 even more important. Here are some of the key points you should be aware of.

Technologies Used to Adapt to COVID-19 Realities Will Become Mainstream

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant influence on the working practices and strategies of organisations across almost all sectors. Companies have had to adapt, whether to survive the pandemic, to deal with increased demand, or to continue operations safely and in adherence with social distancing rules.

Some of those adaptations will continue beyond the pandemic, particularly in relation to technologies and processes used in manufacturing organisations. Two examples are 3D printing and remote support.

3D printing enabled the rapid production of PPE in the early days of the pandemic, demonstrating the potential of this technology. It will continue to be important over the coming years.

Remote support is even more of a game-changer as it provided organisations with a socially distanced solution to dealing with maintenance and other technical issues. The effectiveness of remote support, the cost and time savings involved, and the ability to keep systems secure and compliant, means the use of remote support will continue long after the pandemic has ended.

Mass Customisation Will Continue to Replace Mass Production

Manufacturers in many industries are moving further and further away from mass production models in favour of mass customisation. Mass customisation is made possible through smart factory technologies and solutions and brings a range of benefits to manufacturers in the life sciences sector. Those benefits include bringing you closer to your customers.

Resilience and Flexibility Will Be Prioritised

The COVID-19 pandemic severely tested the resilience and flexibility of organisations in a range of sectors.

Even for manufacturers who remained busy, COVID-19 put a spotlight on resilience and flexibility, in many cases moving both higher up the priority list than things like disaster recovery.

For manufacturers, a key focus for resilience and flexibility is the supply chain. This focus includes taking steps to increase their visibility across all supply chain components.

This enhanced visibility brings additional benefits, too, benefits that are becoming more and more important. An example includes the provenance of materials where there is a growing focus on things like labour conditions and fair trade across all parts of the supply chain.

Building resilience and flexibility into manufacturing supply chains also involves solutions that enable real-time communication and decision making across all supply chain components.

Improved collaboration is seen as essential, too, with the aim of evolving supply chains into collaborative networks rather than connected but independent entities.

Increasing Use of Remote Monitoring & Predictive Analytics

Reducing unplanned downtime has always been a priority for manufacturers. Industry 4.0 technologies help significantly, particularly remote monitoring and predictive analytics technologies.

With these technologies, engineers and technicians can monitor equipment and machines in real-time, identifying maintenance requirements before problems occur. They can then develop potential solutions before they visit the job site, reducing the amount of time they need to be on location.

In fact, the visit to the job site might not even be necessary with the use of remote support processes and technologies, including Microsoft Teams and mixed reality tech.

From a COVID-19 perspective, remote monitoring of machines and predictive analytics also helps pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers optimise the process of bringing third parties on-site, while also minimising the frequency of these situations from occurring.

Increasing Focus on Data and Ensuring Data Quality

A trend that could be on this 2021 list is the increasing use of AI (artificial intelligence) in manufacturing. While AI offers significant strategic value for pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers in a range of areas, the potential of AI solutions depends on the quality of data that the algorithms use. So, expect 2021 to be a year of data capture and quality focus.

The Era of the Distributed Cloud

Cloud computing is increasingly becoming the norm in manufacturing organisations, including in the life sciences sector. However, there are still concerns held by many organisations and executives about the security of their data when it is moved off-site to a third-party platform.

The distributed cloud provides a solution to these concerns. With a distributed cloud, you can run the infrastructure of a public cloud in various locations. These locations can include your premises, other data centres, and the infrastructure of your cloud provider. You can then manage and control everything through a single system.

The distributed cloud even makes it possible for manufacturing organisations to utilise the edge cloud, or edge computing. The edge cloud is where computing – applications or servers – run at or close to the source of the data.

Aside from addressing security concerns, distributed cloud and edge cloud technologies help organisations comply with privacy regulations in multiple jurisdictions. The technologies can also improve the real-time processing of large amounts of data.

Upskilling the Workforce Will Be Essential

The automation technologies being deployed in the manufacturing sector are leading to a change in the skills needed on and off the factory floor. Previously, manufacturers needed workers for repetitive tasks. Today, they need knowledge workers, i.e., workers with the skills to implement, operate, and maintain the automation, collaboration, and data-based technologies that are becoming the norm.

So, companies will seek to recruit knowledge workers. However, they are in short supply, so upskilling the existing workforce will also become a priority.

Decreasing Emphasis on Industry 4.0 Driven by an Increasing Focus on Industry 5.0

While Industry 4.0 is still the here and now for many organisations, it is a concept that has been around for several years. Many of the technologies, processes, and systems that make Industry 4.0 solutions possible already exist. They continue to be improved, and new technologies are being developed, but there is now an increasing emphasis on the stage after industry 4.0 – Industry 5.0.

Where Industry 4.0 focuses on digital transformation, particularly through automation, Industry 5.0 is about deepening the integration between people and smart machines/robots. Watch this space.