Express Pharma

Digital roadmap defines the success of technology initiatives 

Amit Saluja, Senior Director and Head, NASSCOM CoE, explains the role of technology in pharma manufacturing, while also shedding light on the Smart Manufacturing Forum for MSMEs, in an exclusive interview with Akanki Sharma 

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In what ways can technology adoption be the key for pharma manufacturing transformation? Tell us about the role played by NASSCOM CoE in this regard. 

NASSCOM CoE is part of the ‘Digital India’ initiative of the Ministry of Electronics and IT, in collaboration with state governments, and is focussed on accelerating adoption of digital technologies in industries. We have built the largest ecosystem in the country to bring together enduser enterprises, solution providers and academia to cocreate solutions that can help in solving complex business issues. Pharma being a large industry is an important sector, both for global and Indian manufacturers. We understand that the challenges and needs vary with the size of the companies and our programmes are aligned to meet their requirements. In the past two years, we have been running innovation challenges in healthcare and manufacturing sectors where large enterprises share their complex problems for which deep-tech startups propose solutions. The winning startup works with the enterprise to deploy the solutions. We also have long-term industry partnership programmes in case an enterprise has multiple use cases for finding technology-based solutions.

For a pharma manufacturer, the quality of drugs and compliance with Global Manufacturing Practices (GMP) are the most essential. Pharma units need to focus not only on agile and integrated supply chain, but also on seamless operations to drive reduction in the use of raw material, human resources and the risk of lowquality products. Digitalisation has the potential to transform supply chain, boost productivity and improve manufacturing operations. It includes adoption of Industry 4.0 solutions for areas such as production, quality, compliance, procurement, logistics, R&D and workforce development. Digital solutions for paperless operations can digitise the data recording and generate insights from analytics to optimise processes. Condition monitoring of critical equipment prevents them from unwanted breakdowns. Computer vision-based quality inspection of drugs can highlight defects and missing drug in the packaging. Augmented Reality-based virtual plant visits can drive customer and partner engagements, in addition to AR/VR solutions helping in remote collaborations and workforce training. Smart warehousing and supply chain solutions provide drug monitoring, theft security and movement tracking solutions.

While building a smart manufacturing roadmap, what are the aspects that a pharma organisation must keep in mind? Give reasons to support your answer. 

Digital roadmap defines the success of technology initiatives in an organisation. There are numerous examples where digital solutions have failed to create an impact, which makes leaders feel these don’t work for them. However, the real cause of failures is lack of structured roadmap in bringing technology to the organisation. Many times, we have seen enterprises have deployed ad hoc solutions without thinking long-term and that’s when problems take place. While building plans for smart manufacturing, we suggest enterprise to start with the digital maturity assessment of the plant to understand current state of infrastructure, processes and organisation structures to support future growth. These findings are then mapped to cost structure of the enterprise and business objectives for next three-tofive years. The recommendations that come from this exercise help in ensuring an integrated digital plan gets defined that will align with current challenges and future objectives. Design thinking approach can also be used to ensure proposed solution is human-centric and gets developed using agile methodologies.

NASSCOM CoE has launched the Smart Manufacturing Forum. Kindly give us details on the same. How is it going to benefit pharma manufacturers, especially Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)?

In the new normal, where large pharma industries are moving towards digital-led growth, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are falling behind and struggling to understand how technology can help. This disparity in technology adoption between large and MSME pharma units will create more challenges as supply chain needs global, Indian and MSMEs to work together. We met with lot of pharma MSME leaders and found lack of digital awareness is the biggest reason for the lack of technology adoption.  Seeing the gaps between MSME and large pharma companies increasing, we launched the Smart Manufacturing Forum to make 100 MSMEs digital, so that they can become role models and inspire other MSMEs to replicate their success. Through this initiative, we aim to address the awareness, accessibility and affordability challenges that manufacturing enterprises face in technology adoption.

Smart Manufacturing Forum will help enterprises through skill and capacity building, hand-holding for digital journey, and branding and market reach.

What are the various digital skills that are required for smart manufacturing? Tell us how this forum will help in this regard.

The skills needed the most are understanding the applications of digital technologies to improve manufacturing productivity and efficiency. Manufacturing workforce don’t need to know how to develop the applications, but they should be able to identify areas where technologies can help. The good part is it is not so difficult to learn, considering we have domain skills already available with the workforce.

The Smart Manufacturing Forum will help to develop digital awareness across all levels of an organisation. These include interactive masterclasses for business and functional leaders and capability building sessions for managers. A knowledge bank comprising case studies, research reports, webinars and thought leadership sessions is made available to forum members with roundthe-clock access.

Skill building needs to be followed by solution adoption. How do you plan to provide handholding to pharma MSMEs looking to make their plants smarter?

We are keen to have forward-looking pharma MSMEs to be part of the forum, as we would like to work with them to make them digital champions. This will happen through handholding that includes digital maturity assessment for understanding gaps in current processes and identifying opportunities for saving costs. Post this, we will conduct design thinking workshops by bringing together leadership and workforce to define the challenges, along with possible solutions. The outcome will enable us to build technology roadmap for MSMEs for which implementation will be done through co-creating solutions along with deep-tech startups. Our team will connect with both MSME team and startups to define requirements and oversee the implementation. The objective of our handholding is to create success stories that show that productivity and efficiency in plants can also be improved through software and give confidence to more MSMEs. We will also be inviting MSME leaders to present their success stories at the national level and give them a chance to establish themselves as thought leaders.

What are the current manufacturing trends in pharma MSME? How will these evolve in the future when compared to today’s scenario? 

Manufacturing in pharma MSMEs is currently being driven by regulatory and compliance requirements. Majority of the MSMEs are manufacturing drugs for exports, and, hence, for them, processes to align with certifications and the quality are of prime importance. We are making world-class drugs irrespective of whether they are produced in large or small plants, but the bigger question is – are manufacturing practices in small plants cost-efficient? The answer is a big ‘no.’

While we have automation in place in every small pharma unit with processing equipment, processes are still manual. Records are maintained in registers, as not all units have ERP systems available, the inspection process is manual. All of these lead to inefficiencies as historical data is not available for analysis, inventory levels are high and there is a huge dependence on worker skills for doing quality inspection. These systems will not work in the long run as we need to be cost-competitive to operate in a global environment. Future systems will need to be integrated where man and machine talk to each other through data, and for this to happen, we need digital infrastructure. R&D is another area where small pharma units will need to invest and that cannot happen without technology adoption.


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