Automation & Control

Pharma innovation: Depends how you slice it

The definition of innovation isn’t always clear cut

By Karen Langhauser, Chief Content Director

GreatestThingSInceFinding an innovative approach to discussing innovation is not easy. The word itself has been overused, as have all of the ways in which people describe innovation (such as “the greatest thing since sliced bread”).

That being said, I’m quite fascinated by the origins of sliced bread (I also REALLY like bread). Pre-sliced bread was simultaneously an innovation benchmark and an example of incremental improvement. On the one hand, it was groundbreaking: Prior to the 1920s, bread had been a source of nourishment for centuries without the interference of mechanization. But the ‘20s were a decade marked by a vibrant consumer culture, where people sought out more leisure time and were willing to spend money on products that facilitated convenience. The concept of packaged, uniformly sliced pieces of bread was disruptive for many (especially the unfortunate homemakers who had been stuck manually attempting to evenly cut slices of bread for the entire family) and soon became indispensable. 

Yet at the same time, sliced bread is also a tale of persistent, incremental improvements. Despite the fact that the original inventor of the automatic slicer, Otto Frederick Rohwedder, took great pains to get it right (rumor has it he even sought feedback from homemakers to determine how thick to cut the slices), his loaves were sloppy and often fell apart. A St. Louis baker named Gustav Papendick bought Rohwedder’s second machine and made it better. Papendick’s improved design packaged the sliced loaves in cardboard trays, keeping the bread neat and orderly.

This forward leap in the baking industry could not have happened without those willing to reimagine ways in which equipment could meet consumer needs, as well as the persistent efforts of those looking to incrementally improve on the slicer technology.

As B2B editors, much of our time at industry events is spent learning about new equipment and services designed to meet the specific needs of pharma. We hear all the stories behind this innovation and thus truly understand and appreciate the investment pharmaceutical equipment vendors put into developing and improving their products. We believe all types of innovation, whether earth-shattering or incremental, should be recognized. And over the course of a year’s worth of industry events, our editorial team has amassed quite a collection of winning technologies.

This month’s cover story is a tribute to those who listen to the needs of the market and their customers, and as a result, have distinguished themselves as leaders in pharmaceutical equipment and technology. It’s true that not everything can be the greatest thing since sliced bread. But the bread and butter of innovation is its ability to create value and deliver that value to a community of users in the form of a much-needed solution. 

This year, we have highlighted 19 winners, spanning across five different categories. Please take the time to read through our annual Pharma Innovation Awards in this issue. We promise that our slices of innovation will keep your manufacturing process fresh.