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Optimised production for pharmaceutical waste reduction

It’s estimated that for every kilogram of drug made in the pharmaceutical industry, 100kg of waste is produced. Manufacturing faces the need to become more efficient and sustainable, and waste production is one area for improvement. Here I explain how pharmaceutical manufacturers can use automation to improve production line processes and reduce waste.


The pharmaceutical manufacturing industry generates large amounts of waste from perishable or expired materials, scrapped products, non-compliant materials or by-products. Using data to identify areas for improvement in a pharmaceutical production line can allow manufacturers to drive sustainability in their operations, reduce the risk of scrappage and save time, money and energy.
Pharmaceutical operations are often non-circular, meaning that discarded products or materials frequently are unable to be reused or repurposed. The management process itself even incurs energy and financial costs — chemical or hazardous pharmaceutical waste often needs to be sterilised and transported to specialist facilities for disposal. Appropriate pharmaceutical waste disposal procedures are important for safety and regulatory compliance, but reducing the need for these processes in the first place can improve sustainability.
Issues in product quality can also contribute to waste. Pharmaceuticals should be manufactured in line with good manufacturing practice (GMP). Part of this is conducting in-process monitoring and investigation of any out of specification (OOS) results that come up during the testing process. If a product does not meet the stringent requirements set out by the regulatory bodies, it must be disposed of. Production line issues can also increase material loss. Operations must comply with stringent regulations, and thus any faults or interruptions in production mean that the entire batch must be discarded. This highlights the importance of effective monitoring in manufacturing — interpreting production data to determine areas of risk can help to predict and prevent unplanned downtime.

Data driven waste reduction

To reduce pharmaceutical waste, manufacturers should also consider production line optimisation to reduce the input of raw materials against the product output. Using a data-driven approach to manufacturing can support this by identifying unseen issues and faults which may accumulate and result in reduced yield. Analysing production data can highlight areas where downtime may occur or where most waste is produced to allow manufacturers to make adjustments and avoid breakdowns, batch scrappage and unnecessary energy consumption.
Using an automation system designed to optimise manufacturing can be a valuable addition to a pharmaceutical operation. COPA-DATA’s zenon platform can gather production data from every step of the process and identify areas where efficiency is lost or where there is potential for failure, allowing manufacturers to perform predictive maintenance.
This can reduce energy costs and make production more efficient and sustainable. It is also fully compliant with local and international regulations and allows manufacturers to combine production with quality control, minimising the risk of OOS batches.
There is also demand for increased flexibility in pharma as the need for precision medicine and novel therapies grows. However, modifying a monolithic production line to produce different therapies or smaller batches can be inefficient.
COPA-DATA's Module Type Package (MTP) can help to address this. It can easily reconfigure existing machinery or production units to create different products or adjust recipes. Modularising production means that different units can be connected for a plug-and-produce solution that offers flexibility and agility, reducing cost and improving efficiency, energy usage and wastage levels.
Waste in the pharmaceutical industry is not only a financial issue, but a sustainability one too. Batch scrappage, waste management and disposal all have associated risks and energy costs which are only increased by avoidable production issues. Along with more careful planning, using digitalisation in a pharmaceutical plant to identify wastages can tackle this issue and improve plant flexibility and sustainability.