Pharma manufacturing in the (virtual) clouds

June 13, 2024
Digital twins are a valuable tool for bringing the pharma industry into the future

The management and upkeep of a pharma manufacturing facility is a challenging task. Complicated machinery must interact seamlessly, and errors in the process must be immediately flagged to ensure patient safety.

Add to that the fact that many drugs for the U.S. market are being produced in India and China, creating a barrier of visibility into plant construction and ongoing operations. Drug shortages in the U.S. have reached an all-time high, and many of these shortages can be attributed to manufacturing issues. Now more than ever, increased collaboration and visibility on a global scale are critical to support optimal facility operations and speed the safe development and delivery of lifesaving treatments.

Fortunately, technological advancements allow the industry to keep up with this challenging landscape. One such groundbreaking technology is digital twinning, which creates virtual counterparts of manufacturing facilities that are fed data in real time from the facility, enabling monitoring, auditing, forecasting and simulation.

Visit facilities from anywhere

Digital twinning is the virtual representation of a physical location. These digital twins can be configured to include real-time data to perfectly sync with the physical space. This allows users to explore the facility space from their computer screen. For example, digital twins can be used in industrial real estate. By creating a virtual replica of the space, potential pharma manufacturing plants can be mapped out in advance to ensure the space will meet the production needs and optimize the factory layout.

However, most of the benefits of creating digital twins are seen in facilities that are already operational. Digital twins allow experts across the organization, from engineers to data analysts, to collaborate on a single platform, regardless of geography. 

Access to a digital twin will benefit those outside the company as well. For CDMOs, the creation of a digital twin provides customers the ability to monitor the progress of their projects. The FDA has also indicated that digital twins would be a welcome supplementary technology for auditing facilities, particularly for those outside the U.S. According to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, digital tools have recently allowed the FDA to check in on facilities in between inspections, minimizing chances of errors and subsequent delays.

Benefits beyond remote access

The benefits of digital twins are not exclusive to remote work. When issues or concerns appear on the factory floor, digital twins enable workers to escalate their issues through the twin, giving a precise location and full context. This significantly streamlines efforts to address an issue by ensuring that repair personnel have all the pertinent information while automatically generating a record of factory events.

Digital twins can also be designed to incorporate AI and machine learning tools for data analysis. The real-time data generated by monitoring the factory in a virtual space can provide valuable input for optimizing a given process. Using the real-time data collected by the virtual twin, processes can be accurately characterized and fed to machine learning algorithms to uncover methods for making the system more efficient.

A future-facing tool

Digital twins are an exciting advancement in pharma manufacturing that benefits a company’s employees, customers and auditors. They foster collaboration on a global scale, while simultaneously streamlining communication and optimizing key processes. When properly implemented, digital twins can be a valuable tool for bringing pharma manufacturing into the future.

About the Author

Nick Armstrong | Senior Director of Digital Enablement, CAI

Mr. Armstrong holds a B.S. and M.S. degree in Bioprocessing Science and Bioprocess Engineering, respectively, from North Carolina State University. He has held consulting and management positions in Process Development, Manufacturing Sciences & Technology, Reliability, and Facilities Management.