The price of delaying predictive maintenance in pharma

March 10, 2023
When it comes to maintenance programs, how can the risk-averse industry overcome its outdated cautiousness?

Given the high stakes of pharmaceutical products, regulatory bodies like the FDA have created a culture of risk aversion. In response, pharma manufacturers have designed maintenance programs that over-inspect and over-spend on equipment. Profit margins may allow for it, but there are significant downsides to this strategy, including safety risks, negative ESG impacts, avoidable costs and low asset utilization.

In a recent panel discussion, Pharma Manufacturing set out to understand the full impact of delaying the evolution of predictive maintenance. The discussion featured insights from Zach Gilula, Pharma Machine Health Lead at Augury and David Seignolle, former vice president and head of Operations at Teva.

Here is a glance at some takeaways from the roundtable:

Q: Why have pharma manufacturers avoided adopting predictive maintenance when most other industries have embraced the practice?

David Seignolle: First of all, I don't think the whole industry of pharma manufacturers have avoided adopting predictive maintenance. Over the last decade, the pharma industry has not had the same focus on cost as many other industries, such as consumer goods. Because of pharma’s margins, the industry has profitability.

There are still a lot of opportunity pockets here and there in the pharma world — and predictive maintenance is one of these pockets. And yet somehow it does not come with a high priority, probably because benefits are not accurately evaluated or articulated. Additionally, oftentimes maintenance is outsourced. It gets tricky to engage maintenance partners in a predictive maintenance route.

Finally, I think the industry is also very risk adverse and for some relevant reasons, such as compliance and patient safety. It is true to say that the pharma industry will never be an early adopter and has not been in terms of predictive maintenance. But despite that, it's very encouraging to see that thanks to high performing organizational insight throughout the world, predictive maintenance is now a reality in the pharma industry and is being implemented at more and more companies across the globe. And I believe it will accelerate very strongly in the next couple of years and it will scale it deserves.

Q: For the pharma companies that haven't made that leap yet, what types of maintenance strategies are they utilizing and what are the downsides of those strategies?

Zach Gilula: It's not that predictive maintenance hasn't been utilized in some form or fashion, but today what I see when I have conversations with sites around the world is that most companies are still looking at leveraging components of reactive maintenance, preventative maintenance, and a lot of heavy PMs that have been utilized and grown over time. But we're still in that reactive preventative space.

There are different exposures to different types of predictive maintenance technologies. Predictive maintenance can be a lot of different things — vibration, ultrasound, infrared. But vibration technology been around for decades. Different companies have utilized vibration to check the health of their machines, but it's been very siloed. Maybe they are hiring third parties that come in and do analysis — once a month, once a quarter, every six months or once a year. But that's still separate from the actual holistic process that the team is using to understand what is the actual condition of this machine today? Do we need to take action? Do we need to start making sure that we have the right parts in inventory so that we could make the right repairs and get ahead of any failures?

So the current state is, every company is looking at moving forward using technology, leveraging their limited resources in a more effective way. But historically, pharma, life sciences and health care have had enough budget to allocate to over-maintain and over-pm, which has worked well enough. It still works today, but I think the focus is really shifting to the opportunities that would be created if the industry made repairs as needed, and had the right spare parts and inventory so as to not lock up working capital. The current state presents a lot of opportunities to attack that future state right now with technology.

Want to hear more? View the entire panel discussion 

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PharmaManufacturing Staff | PharmaManufacturing Staff