Expert Statement: Balajikasiram Sundararajan, ACG

The Transition to Digitalization in the Pharmaceutical Industry

06.09.2021 - ISPE and its members are developing the roadmap to introduce Industry 4.0, also called the Smart Factory, at the pharmaceutical industry as Pharma 4.0 – an operating model that is interconnected, meaning that the digital tools allow for a fully connected network to enable direct communication between all levels in an organization.

Despite the transformational potential of digitalization, the pharma industry has historically been slower than other sectors in adopting digital tools, such as cloud storage, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), blockchain, and remote communication technologies, and in ­mak­ing associated changes in workplace culture and strategic priorities. Now, however, the Covid-19 pandemic may be accel­erating the pace of change.
What are the digitalization trends in the industry? What is the business case to develop and implement digital tools and digitalization strategies? And how can organizations introduce and use them?

CHEManager asked executives and industry experts to share their views on digitalization trends in the pharmaceutical industry and challenges on the way to realize the sector’s digital transformation. We proposed to discuss the following aspects:

  • What do you think are the key digitalization trends in the pharmaceutical industry?
  • What do you consider to be the most important benefits of digitalization in the pharmaceutical industry?
  • Is your company involved in system­atic, ongoing action to digitalize operations?
  • At present, digitalization in the pharmaceutical industry is immature. In your view, what are the biggest obstacles that need to be overcome in the digitalization of the sector?
  • How would you rate the digital maturity level of your company?


“The future is bright. The future is digital.”


Balajikasiram Sundararajan: At ACG, we began our digital transformation journey in 2017 with four broad objectives: How can we use emerging digital technologies to transform manufacturing operations, enhance customer experience, build smart products and services, and create new business models?

We started with projects focused on reducing machine breakdown and enhancing overall equipment efficiency (OEE). Today, 1,000+ machines are connected to our industrial IoT platform streaming more than 30,000 parameters, spanning process data, energy data, machine condition data, alarms, alerts.

What started with OEE enhancement has evolved into a range of digital initiatives cutting across production planning, condition monitoring, predictive maintenance, energy optimization, process capability, quality, safety, and operator augmentation. These initiatives are powered by digital technologies, such as industrial IoT, advanced analytics, machine learning, computer vision, mobile robotics, augmented reality, and virtual reality. These digital initiatives have yielded significant benefits in reducing downtime, enhancing OEE, decreasing lead time, reducing defects, optimizing energy consumption, enhancing capacity, improving first pass yield, and much more.

While we started with manufacturing operations, our digital transformation initiatives have grown further. We are in the process of developing and deploying digital solutions aimed at providing delightful customer experiences across various customer touchpoints. These touchpoints include technical services, factory acceptance tests, plant qualification, and product approvals. As a machine builder serving the pharma industry, “Smart connected products” is our strategic initiative to make machines smarter using Industrial IoT, edge computing, advanced analytics, and machine learning. These technologies allow us to provide insights to our customers to run the machines better and reduce unplanned breakdowns, enable service teams with insights to perform better field service, and help our design teams to optimize machine design.

At ACG, we strongly believe in digital – enabled transformation, and see great potential in technology for delivering significant value to our customers, our partners, and to ourselves. The future is bright. The future is digital.