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The digitalisation lab: bringing the digital age to manufacturing

At GSK, we are developing world-class manufacturing innovation to help us bring medicines and consumer healthcare products to people who need them around the world. Keeping a vaccine sterile as we transport it thousands of miles or delivering the right size of droplet every single time a nasal spray is used, are just two of the problems our teams solve daily.

This global team of engineers and technical experts, known as Global Manufacturing and Supply (GMS), are focused on the patient at the end of the supply chain, and know just how vitally important it is to get it right.

But we’re also thinking about tomorrow, and have embarked on an ambitious long term strategy, across both our GMS and Research & Development (R&D) organisation, to explore what the medicines and consumer healthcare products of the future might look like, and how we can make them.

The Digitisation Lab

In a building in Stevenage, UK, alongside one of our global R&D hubs, we have a team dedicated to seeking, developing and industrialising new manufacturing technologies. We’re collaborating with leading tech companies, both those familiar with pharmaceuticals and those from un-related industries, such as the gaming industry, to give us new insights into how we can bring together science, technology and business to find smarter ways to work. This team includes everyone from automation engineers to data scientists, all aiming to create new data-led approaches and optimise the use of state of the art digital technology across R&D and GMS. The digitisation lab is at the heart of this thinking; a collaborative workspace where we can road-test new technologies in order to really understand new technologies and accelerate the use of them across GSK.

IIM

Patrick Hyett, head of the IIM Digitisation team, the team responsible for this work, explains why this project is so important: “At GSK we’re harnessing new science and technologies across all parts of our business, helping us to develop innovative new medicines. This process started with a challenge: how could we demonstrate what a ‘data-based strategy’ for manufacturing within the company could look like. By starting with a blank piece of paper, the team have been able to think about and show what a manufacturing set-up could look like, with all the data and capability we have available today, if you were to “start from scratch” rather than trying to fit this new technology into an existing system. We built a stand-alone test-lab to bring these  ideas to life- it’s all really exciting.”

The team believes the Digitisation lab will help accelerate the adoption of new digital technologies within GSK, so our company can act quickly to harness new innovations and build them into the manufacture of our products.

What could this look like in practice?

One example of how these innovations can have a huge impact on our manufacturing processes is in the training of our employees. Through the new medium of virtual reality, our employees will be able to simulate real life, every day manufacturing processes in an artificial, “safe” training environment. This “learn by doing” approach enables the employee to learn and to practice each process in detail without any risk. The result – faster, more effective training, decreased potential for errors and a monumental shift in the way we approach learning in manufacturing.

Scientist using virtual reality in the lab

Indeed, the opportunities presented by the growing world of digital and virtual reality are huge. It’s possible this work will eventually lead to an entirely digitised and virtual approach to the design and introduction of new products. Instead of the traditional process, where the product is taken through design, manufacturing and supply separately, this new digital approach enables us to take the product through the entire cycle in a rapid, seamless ”end to end” approach. Rather than identifying and solving problems in isolation, challenges to manufacturing the product would be viewed holistically and managed as a team effort. In this case, putting R&D and GMS together, each team’s understanding of the complete system of product design, manufacture and supply is far greater.

Patrick said: “IIM is a perfect demonstration of our culture of innovation, which extends far beyond our traditional research labs into the way we do business, the way we engage with our factories and our relentless search for collaboration. We know that by working with partners who are leaders in technology, our manufacturing business will stay at the forefront of new technology”.