Supply chain sustainability for life sciences

The supply chain makes up a significant proportion of the environmental impact of the life sciences industry, with manufacture, materials, transport and waste presenting huge sustainability issues. Here, Mohammed Ahmed, regional sales manager at automation supplier, COPA-DATA,  explore how manufacturers can rethink their supply chains to meet sustainability goals while maintaining resilience and adhering to regulations.

The life sciences and pharmaceutical industries are undoubtedly essential in modern society, providing crucial healthcare and scientific products. However, these operations can have significant environmental impacts. Sourcing and supply of raw materials, manufacturing processes, transport and storage all bring their own unique sustainability challenges. Though pharmaceutical manufacturers are implementing new strategies to improve their green credentials, there is still room for improvement.

Supply chain sustainability

One key area that pharmaceutical companies should consider making changes is within the supply chain. According to Deloitte, over 70 per cent of the emissions produced in the pharmaceutical and life sciences industries originate in the activities required to produce and transport products. On top of this, around 300 million tonnes of plastic waste are produced annually across the whole supply chain.

The very nature of the industry is complex. With complex upstream chains, heavy regulations, sensitive products requiring specialist handling and often volatile supplies of raw materials, it can be a challenge to adjust processes to improve sustainability. What’s more, there are some areas, such as the significant water usage needed to produce drugs, that are entirely unavoidable. But by making smaller changes and embracing new technology, the supply chain can be made more sustainable.

Incremental gains

The life sciences supply chain is a global one, meaning that sourcing and transporting raw materials often results in significant emissions. Manufacturers should consider finding more local suppliers to reduce reliance on overseas resources and costly transport.

Moving towards renewable energy to power the often energy-intensive processes involved in active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) synthesis is another way in which manufacturers can phase out more polluting resources in their operations and reduce their environmental impacts.

Rethinking the logistics and transport of life sciences products is another way the supply chain can be made greener. Some of the challenges in life sciences in this area are more complex — for example, cold chain shipping is essential for some sensitive materials that require uninterrupted refrigeration, but for products suitable for standard shipping there is more flexibility. Manufacturers can work with logistics and shipping companies to explore alternative modes of transportation such as electric vehicles (EVs) optimising transportation routes to cut emissions linked with product distribution along with potentially improving shipping efficiency.

Green methodologies

There are also opportunities to improve the sustainability of pharmaceutical production by altering the manufacturing process. For instance, transitioning from batch manufacturing to single, continuous manufacturing can also have tangible benefits in sustainability, as well as offering better monitoring and control and improved operational agility. Separating the production stages is not only slower, but it does also not allow for thorough quality checking and results in far higher emissions. Continuous manufacturing offers consistent quality regardless of product volume, and is more sustainable, with better overall energy efficiency and reduced emissions.

Moving to continuous manufacturing can be supported through the use of integrated software platforms. COPA-DATA’s zenon can collate, analyse, and exchange both historic and real-time process data and to unite all stages of production and distribution. Platforms such as zenon are becoming increasingly common in life sciences, and implementing these solutions can help to support sustainability initiatives.

Incorporating smarter technologies in production lines can also help to meet the demands of an evolving pharmaceutical landscape, where customised production and operational agility are essential. Modular production, where production processes are broken down into smaller modules that can be interchanged, offers a way to reconfigure production lines without manual intervention, giving manufacturers the option of product diversification with minimal disruption to their operations. This reinforces the resilience of the supply chain without the costs and impacts of incorporating new systems or constantly reconfiguring.

Our Module Type Package (MTP) Suite concept offers a digital solution to modular production by standardising all Process Equipment Assemblies (PEAs), or process modules. This addresses the issue of heterogeneity between equipment and seamlessly integrates all modules into a single system. Pharmaceutical and life sciences manufacturers looking to reduce their environmental impact can also implement digital technologies to support their supply chain activities in other ways. Not only can smart technologies help to mitigate emissions and environmental damage, but businesses turning to digital supply chains have also seen increased profits and value, along with reduced operational costs, making this a beneficial undertaking for any operation.

Adopting a data driven approach for end-to-end visibility and full traceability, where manufacturers can also monitor their water and energy usage in key production processes, can help to optimise efficiency across the entire supply chain.

Using software can track process efficiency and resource usage and identify areas for energy and material saving, allowing users to put targeted reduction strategies in place. It can also monitor and adjust data usage to minimise consumption where possible for improved efficiency.

Smart technologies such as zenon can manage distribution schedules and automate batch management for better overall efficiency, reduced error, and superior quality — this in turn mitigates the risk of human error and costly downtime, which can have a knock-on effect on sustainability due to product wastage and higher emissions. zenon can even be used to implement and manage renewable energy sources for manufacturers looking to move towards greener sources of energy to power their operations.

Life sciences is a dynamic and rapidly expanding industry, and as it continues to grow, the need for cleaner and more environmentally conscious practice becomes more urgent.

Using digital technologies such as zenon to support supply chain sustainability through more efficient manufacturing processes, renewable power and energy-efficient technologies can help to ensure a greener life sciences supply chain that is not only smarter, but also more aligned with global climate goals.

Visit COPA-DATA’s website to learn more.