What is Industry 4.0 and what does it have in store for bioprocessing?

In this heavily digitalised world where artificial intelligence is taking control of the daily activities of humans, industries are also looking toward digitalisation. From oil industries to semiconductor manufacturers, every machine is now part of a bigger integrated system. Bioprocessing 4.0 is a similar idea to a future-oriented bioprocessing industry that can run the complex processes of manufacturing on its own without relying much on manpower. An integrated system where product manufacturing is connected end-to-end for smooth operations while not compromising on the quality of the product.

The idea of industry 4.0 is inspired by the Internet of Things (IoT) which has been around since 2004 when companies based in Silicon Valley started designing smart homes. However, due to the complex nature of the bioprocessing industry and the involvement of delicate living organisms, it took a while for it to start taking shape in biopharma and bioprocessing. “Industry 4.0” is an umbrella term that was introduced in 2011 by the German government as a kickstart program to digitalise manufactured-based economy from a labour-intensive model to autonomous and self-learning and self-optimizing industries. Bioprocessing 4.0 is the last frontier in achieving this goal.

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Data-driven industry optimisation and upgrades are the next big thing across all niches.

How can industry 4.0 be implemented in bioprocessing?

For a complex industry like bioprocessing which involves dealing with delicate living cells and organisms, reactor conditions and time are very crucial, and it needs calibration at every step of the process. This is the main challenge when we talk about the completely autonomous bioprocessing industry. This is the very reason bioprocessing 4.0 started in 2017, six years after the initial 4.0 idea. Also, the scepticism of scientists around adopting a completely new technology that is still in its infancy in other industries was a huge leap of faith that prevented the necessary momentum build-up. 

In the bioprocessing industry, the main challenge of implementing the 4.0 upgrade is optimizing both upstream and downstream processes. The idea is to introduce physical sensors at each step of the process that would allow real-time data collection and maintenance of information libraries for reviewing and to also correct the downward slope of processing. Also, one of the main ingredients of the bioprocessing industry is understanding the limitations. Sometimes these limitations hinder the process and when they occur at the end of the process cause substantial loss of time and resources. Through AI and computer-simulated scenarios, complete control of the process is possible. This would allow the central monitoring personnel to correct the anomalies in real-time to maintain a smooth operation and supply chain. So, in short, there are four points at which AI and cyber-physical space can be created: 

  • Maintenance of operation parameters
  • Optimization and streamline machination 
  • Maintenance of supply chain 
  • Biosensors for maintaining optimized conditions for the living organisms

What are the benefits of implementing industry 4.0 in bioprocessing?

For an industry as big as bioprocessing which is not only resource-intense but has severe time constraints, implementing the bioprocessing 4.0 model would be a revolution in the true sense. Millions of lives depend on the timely delivery of quality products manufactured in biopharmaceuticals and biotechnology industries. Through AI introduction and creating a physical-cyber interface the operations would not only become bump-free but remote manufacturing would also be possible close to the resource-rich areas. This means with a handful of capable people a full industry would be able to work break-free. This would lower cost and increase process control, and all these free-up resources would then be available for other activities, ignored in the past.

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Industry 4.0 can be implemented in any industry, but since bioprocessing uses live organisms for production, it can be tricky.

What can we expect or look forward to in the future of bioprocessing 4.0?

Right now, the world is standing at a very important juncture. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the industry and has completely changed the way people will live in the future compared to what they expected. The pandemic has created a unique opportunity for the industries around the world to shift their attention towards modern ways to fulfil the demands of the people under the new world order. During the first half-year of 2020, the biopharma industry was fighting hard for survival and to get ahead of the pandemic, although the situation is much better right now. And yet, we know nothing of how things will progress as time passes. 

In the future bioprocessing could be completely autonomous based on artificial intelligence and algorithms capable of handling every problem masterfully. Upstream, as well as downstream processes, are both in dire need of upgrades, as both process categories encompass many processes that still need to be automated. Through sensors, downstream and upstream processing would be more automated creating decreasing batch-to-batch variations. 

Similarly, through next-generation bioprocessing solution resource utilization and efficient management of site capacities will be better managed to produce more in less time. Some envision bioprocessing 4.0 as a single product-focused industry while some envision it as a multipurpose industry running connected processes smoothly and time-efficiently. 

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What does a Bioprocessing 4.0 future hold for us? Only benefits in terms of time and yield.


In conclusion, it is a fact that the industrial revolution is knocking at the bioprocessing industry door. Cyber-physical space is the next big thing on the horizon. Those who would be the first to embrace the change would be the ones reaping the benefits earlier. Industries that are reluctant to change the “this is how we have always done it” mindset, are going to lose market confidence, owing to the slow product delivery and quality. This pandemic is a great time for the industry to start working on the transformation to keep up with the changes.

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