Automation for the people

Pharmaceutical Commerce, Pharmaceutical Commerce - June 2021, Volume 16, Issue 2

Appreciating the human side of automation motives and approaches in the pharma supply chain

Admitting to a bit of indulgence, yes, the headline is indeed a play off of the 1992 R.E.M. album Automatic for the People, one of my favorites by the band. But don’t worry, I won’t attempt to somehow tie our June issue on supply chain management and the latest in drug serialization and track and trace into goofing on Elvis or how the sidewinder sleeps. But in reading through our coverage while putting together the issue, and speaking with people on the inside of pharma’s vast supply chain engine, one secondary theme kept echoing quietly from the background: automation. That process-driven world of machines and controls that makes sure pharmaceutical ingredients are handled and filled correctly and precisely.

Amazing technology but always tough to fully grasp for the layperson. It’s expected, and, therefore, often difficult to appreciate true advancements in automation when they arise. And perhaps more importantly, also to remind ourselves of the end game: critical formulated, mixed and packaged medicines in the hands of people—patients, healthcare providers—more quickly.

It’s “not automation for the sake of automation, but automation to result in a true benefit—to get products manufactured and distributed faster to our customers,” Vin Colicchio, vice president, supply chain and external manufacturing, Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, tells me in our June profile when explaining the company’s motives in deciding to automate certain supply chain functions.

And it’s not just in the context of the production line, of course. A recent report on the pharmacy automation market notes (and we cover here) that the use of automated machinery to fill and dispense prescriptions is poised for a period of significant growth over the next few years, driven in part by the emerging involvement and investment of big-tech giants like Amazon and Uber.

On the drug shipping and monitoring front, the ability to automate data and analytics to support smarter planning and decision-making is also attracting notice, as Suzanne Shelley reports in our main feature for June.

Sometimes even innovation goes through the motions.

Michael Christel is Editorial Director of Pharmaceutical Commerce. He can be reached at mchristel@mjhlifesciences.com.

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