Joining hands to mitigate challenges

As part of its webinar series during the pandemic, Pharma Pro&Pack Expo, analytica Anacon India and India Lab Expo hosted a comprehensive seminar on 30th April 2020, titled “Covid-19: Pharma and machinery sector join hands to mitigate the challenges”.

The extensive webinar, organised by Messe Muenchen India in association with Indian Pharma Machinery Manufacturers Association (IPMMA), was led by an esteemed set of panelist from the pharma and pharma machinery sector.

The panel included names such as Mr. Narasima Raju, Site Head (Quality), Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories; Mr. Ashis Banerjee, CMD, Gansons Limited; Mr. Shankar Gupta, COO – ACG Engineering; Mr. Vishesh Parekh, Managing Director, INCOME; Mr. Shaunak Dave, CEO (Asia), Optel Group; Mr. R. Ramanathan, COO and Director, Parle Global Technologies Pvt. Ltd; and was moderated by Mr. Kaushik Desai, Advisor at IPMMA.

The renowned speakers on the panel shared their perspective on how the pharma industry and machine manufacturers can work together to lessen the impact of Covid-19. The webinar was attended by over 500 attendees from different countries.

Messe Muenchen India organises a series of webinars that focus on various industries, giving a platform for industry experts to discuss and analyse current market situation and future possibilities for their respective sectors.

‘World is looking at Indian pharma industry’

“When the lockdown was announced and we were told to work from home, it was something unbelievable, because I’ve never worked from home. These are very difficult times. True, change is the only constant, but this is a change we need to look at differently. There are challenges everywhere. Working from home is a challenge, managing your family essentials is a challenge, managing children who are not used to staying at home is a challenge, contacting your sales team, getting people in plants, making them work, organizing supply chain and logistics, the list of challenges goes on… But we have to look at different ways, because we are in an industry which is serving people, which is serving humanity. It is essential that we stand up to this challenge and deliver not only for our people and our country, but also to the mankind,  because world is looking at the Indian pharma industry.” – Mr. Shankar Gupta, COO – ACG Engineering

‘What do we do when this occurs again?’

“I am reminded of an old English saying: “How do you make the almighty laugh? And you make him laugh by telling him your future plans”. Probably what this pandemic has actually taught us or is teaching us, as we go along, is no matter how big plans you make, one needs to be adaptable, to be able to change very fast, because the tiniest of things can change your mega plans in such a way one cannot think of. There is an interesting calculation about this virus. The total weight of the corona virus in the whole world comes to just around one gram. See how one gram could change the whole world.

Actually I find it a little ironic because, we here are trying to plan for the future, but what is being taught to us is that we really cannot plan much. I guess that humankind is used to live in an age of certainty, and you would always like to make sure that there is something which is reasonably certain in the future. 

I do believe that this will go away. It’s a question of time, whether it is going to be three months, six months or a year, but we will come back to what we were. And I think what is more important for planning is that what do we do when this occurs again? We will see how we, the pharma industry, will handle this. Mr. Vishesh Parekh, Managing Director, INCOME

”The way pharma runs has changed’

“You are all aware how the pharma industry runs. It’s completely regulatory driven, and there are lot of procedures and GMP practices to be followed, with product safety being the main concern. But now in the Covid-19 situation, a lot of things have changed. Apart from ensuring the product safety, now we need to look upon the safety of the employees as well.

Many things have changed in the way pharma facilities run in terms of human safety perspective. At the same time we have to ensure that the medicine is always available within the reach of the patient. For that we have to ensure that all our operations run seamlessly with no intervention at all. We did face some challenges in the form of equipment issues. But somehow with the support of all the OEMs and equipment manufacturers we could correct them online, and some of the issues were resolved through video calls.

In my view, pharma equipments must be designed like missiles. They should work without any intervention. And whoever is operating the equipment, they should behave as if they are the owners of the equipment. It should be like:  I run, I maintain and I comply, so I take care of everything.

Rather than following reactive approach, we should follow predictive and proactive approach. We need to work absolutely with zero intervention. Only then the medicines would reach the patients and fulfil their needs. So, we all have to play a very big role to achieve this. – Mr. Narasima Raju, Site Head (Quality), Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories

‘Come together, work together and address this issue’

“Thank you for this opportunity to be part of this forum. One of the things I noticed was the exponential increase of participants as the time drew near for the webinar. And what’s interesting is that ‘exponential’ has become a very scary word in this current corona scenario. So the only time it is really interesting and exciting is when exponential interest is shown in a joint collaborative effort to address this issue. As my colleagues mentioned earlier, this has become the age of irrationality, which means that to a large extent all our conventional modes of even attempting to predict the future are being recalibrated now.

Having said that what I mean in terms of what lies ahead for us is a very disciplined and cautious approach towards addressing this serious challenge. We have huge responsibility because we are the second largest populous country in the world, and we have huge masses of people who have a sense of helplessness beyond anything we can imagine.

Going forward, I think we have a significantly higher responsibility in our own respective roles to be able to come together, work together and address this issue.” – Mr. Ashis Banerjee, CMD, Gansons Limited

‘We have to relook, reassess and reorganize’

“It’s proud to see that pharma industry have turned to be the salute-worthy brave warriors like our dear doctors and many of those great humans who are out in the pandemic giving their best to the society. Today we are in something that we have never experienced. There’s no news other than this pandemic all over the world. This is the worst of all the disasters that have ever happened in the world. But one thing I am pleased about to some extent is that we are not in those very difficult time industries like tourism, banking, real estate, retail, auto, etc., where the impact is much more worst. Sad to say this, but we are blessed to be in an industry which is the very essential one. Even if there is an impact, I am pretty confident we are bound to revive and strive for better. Overall, the industry has to relook, reassess, reorganize, and the business outlook has to be totally changed.” – Mr. R. Ramanathan, COO and Director, Parle Global Technologies Pvt. Ltd

‘Leveraging digitization is not luxury, it is a necessity’

“Have you ever seen a tornado is transformed into a rainbow? Dr APJ Abdul Kalam has said that adversities always present opportunity of introspection. And when we do the introspection, the opportunities and potentials pop up. The pandemic of Covid-19 has brought immense potential. Yes, there are severe repercussions, we all know about it. But the Indian pharma machinery manufacturers and the pharmaceutical industry can do a lot.

Globally there is a need for transparent communication and collaboration. If the communication had been transparent in the beginning things could have been different. And with collaboration, the world will see the new vaccine researched and launched in record time.Then there is a thought process shift to global interdependency. Previous to Covid-19, everybody was talking about country specific barriers to business and various other restrictions, but now there is global interdependency, and for India being the global pharma manufacturing hub, it is a huge opportunity.

As industry we need to connect with the entire ecosystem. There is a lot of fragility in our supply chain and I would see that digitisation with Industry 4.0 and end-to-end supply chain, we can create a visible, secure and integrated supply chain.  Integrated supply chain ecosystem and automation and Industry 4.0 are the two learnings for pharmaceutical industry. Leveraging digitization is not luxury, it is a necessity.

Now the question is how we can, as pharma machinery manufacturers, support the pharmaceutical industry? Now the coin is flipped. Previously the pharmaceutical industry could run with local support provided by the equipment manufacturers. Now the industry will ask us digital technology to give them remote support in this kind of pandemic.

As people, in this pandemic and lockdown our goal has shifted from success and money to health and happiness, and our living from materialistic to sustainable living.” – Mr. Shaunak Dave, CEO (Asia), Optel Group

Q. What are the challenges in running a manufacturing facility with minimum workforce, minimum support from machine manufacturers, and by maintaining safety of the employees?

Mr. Narasima Raju: As explained before, since pharma is an essential service we all have to continue producing our medicines. During this pandemic period we are operating with the minimum workforce by dividing into two shifts instead of three shifts.

Most of our equipments have online connectivity, so the OEMs could take the system online to support us. So the digitization aspects of the equipment, and the predictive and proactive approaches we follow, rather than reactive approach, helped us a lot.

For maintaining safety of the employees, we have ensured that the fumigation for the buses is taken place and sanitizing agents are placed at all entry and exit points, which are touch-free. And we have divided the entire operation into multiple zones. If people need to cross their zone and go to the other zone, they have to follow certain procedures.

Apart from that we are creating awareness among the employees on the need to keep social distancing whether they are in the workplace or outside.

We also have a contingency plan in place. Zoning is one of the action plans as part of this. This limits the movement of the people as they work in their respected zones only. So if one person is affected in a particular zone, the entire operation is not stopped.

We are also doing some mock-ups in our regular operation as to what should be done if any person gets affected, how he needs to be treated, etc. So the mock-up plan is in place, isolation rooms are in place, and the PPEs are at hand.

Q What are the challenges and issues you faced for reaching the critical equipments and spares to your customers?

Mr. R. Ramanathan: We have a lot of consignments of spares and equipments that come from Japan, US and other countries. We did face a lot of challenges. There was problem for the clearing and forwarding agent to reach even the nearby port. No operations were there at the container freight station, because there was no labour or rather less labour. Mechanical devices like forklifts and cranes were not there, and the containers were piled up in a haphazard way.

Detention periods were getting over, and charges were being levied by the shipping line. The transportation costs increased as there was no driver or no vehicle available, and so on.

We faced lots of challenges, but our exim team and logistics team did excellent works in a very short span of time. Prior tracking of the shipments and containers were done well in advance, prior filing of documents to customs to avoid late filings and to avail any waivers, documentation verified and completed in all respects, prior liaisoning with the container freight station for labour and mechanical instructions, and prior liaisoning with transporters to get proper e-pass for vehicles with RTO for smooth commuting. We did a lot of things like that.

But in all, pre-emptive actions in terms of documentation, filing with customs, information on loaders, etc. were all done in proper manner that could help us to reach the consignments to the customers. There were also problems with the countries where our principals were located, because they could not have many of their consignments moved on time because of the challenges they had. But still we could manage all of those challenges across with some pre-emptive planning.

Q. Can you throw some light on services or the troubleshooting support? And what do you recommend on spares and equipments in such crying times?

Mr. Ashis Banerjee: We have essentially worked with systems and designs for a long time. The duty cycles of the components were already designed for a virtually continuous operation. But there is an obvious wear and tear on components and parts. So what we did is we have actually analysed and been able to predict the wearing of a part and mandated to clients that they actually store or keep these parts in stock. We have also engineered systems in a way that they are easily replaceable.

Now from the records we have from the period of the lockdown, we have had minimal or no issues per se on the supply or repair of parts. One of the things we are exhorting our clients to do is buy OEM spare-parts only, because unfortunately for reasons of contingency we find that some of our clients are buying parts on an ad-hoc basis for breakdown maintenance.

Mr. Narasima Raju: If we can have some virtual imaging techniques as part of the equipment, we can make use of them, mainly for rectifying the problems related to parts. The problems are not the same every time. Sometimes we get a different problem. If we can have some virtual techniques available as part of the equipment, we can make use of them and it will be very helpful. If any problem comes up with the equipment, we get the alarm, but to do the maintenance these kinds of virtual models will be really of use.

Mr. R. Ramanathan: Most of our machines do have that, and there is also a conscious effort being put in to invest in this area. We also had some demonstrations done in the last P-MEC as well. Overall, the suppliers also have understood the value and need for the same.

The online support also needs certain conditions at the site as well, like uninterrupted power supply, good net connectivity, better skill set of individuals who should assist the subject, and so on. This is the demand in the machinery world today. Many of you must be knowing that the cost of services globally is very expensive. Many of the global equipments have these virtual models in place. But bringing this value across the Indian pharma industry against some cost and commercial considerations is always a challenge. However, as the discussion that is on today, to bring in the best to the industry forward at this situation, these things have to be put into practice.

I would say building video manuals with the systems, that too in multi languages, be it hard or soft manuals, also should be the need of the time. The guidance and demonstrations will go a long way in avoiding any physical support, which should be the goal.

The extent of training and support provided during the initial phase of the machine is also very important. The refreshers that you give from time to time should help you controlling the situation by using telecon methods. We have also provided time-zone based telecon support when we were at different time intervals. Sill the service engineers were able to support because the individuals working on the machine had right skill sets.

The overall remote assistance goal supports, but the journey is really endless. There must also be some amount of planning done at the customers end, wherein the equipments that they are likely to be procured must comply to these requirements. This would force any supplier to bring about the same in the equipments rather than expecting it later. 

Q. How much would digitization impact the technical support in the current scenario and in the future?

Mr Shaunak Dave: We have been providing digitization support for the last 10 years. Initially it was on the Skype tool or taking control of the controllers and setting the recipes and all. But later, being a global company, we realized that it’s not going to happen when it comes to maintenance. Setting of the recipes or parameters and taking the control of controllers and changing it is all fine, but what about maintenance?

So in the last five years we have come up with remote tech support with augmented vision. We call it Optel smart glasses. As part of its SLA offer, Optel provides virtual tech support – a cutting-edge way to solve any issue you may experience, with a unique “see-what-I-see” augmented reality technology. This mobile, hands-free remote assistance solution allows Optel field technicians and technical experts to collaborate in real time, anywhere in the world.

Apart from that we have implemented the digital service process digitization, where there is a global service toll-free number. Anybody, who is working in India, US, Canada, Brazil or in Europe, can call the toll-free number. Somebody would pick up and assist you. All data is available on our platform. So, even if you have installed something in India, and there is a remote FAT support in Ireland, you can see what exactly the problem. It’s a very active technology and it is getting more and more adaptable day by day.

Digitization has changed the face of technical support. Industry 4.0 with predictive maintenance support and integrated digital platform is going to be the new normal.

Mr. Shankar Gupta: Except our granulation lines, most of our machines are manufactured in India. ACG generally competes with all the best in the world. When you say that a machine is designed in India, whatever you say that you have the design facility of the best engineers, customers perception is always that European machines are better. Where India can have an edge apart from pharma, the one industry where India is a global leader is IT. So we thought that we will leverage the Indian IT to have a leadership position for ourselves and the country.

Today all our customers are working on Industry 4.0, which is leveraging the big data, which is matrix based data to dashboard setup for getting real-time KPI. What it does is it streamlines the manufacturing process, enhancing efficiency, reducing waste, avoiding breakdowns, keeping less spare parts and avoiding the inventory. First we are doing the proof of the concept in our capsules plant, because that’s a process plant and we can directly replicate it to our customers. We have identified a few customers. Incidentally, Dr. Reddy is also one of the partners in our digitization process.

There’s a huge focus across the organization. There’s a completely different team to work on the IIoT, a complete setup which will work on the predictive. Right now we are doing on preventive, the next step will be going to predictive, and finally we will go to prescriptive. A huge investment is going on. Any of you who had visited P-MEC, we had a separate room there for our IIoT . Yes, that’s a journey, and we are moving very fast.

Mr. Vishesh Parekh: I have a different take on this. No matter what we talk of digitization, automation, online support, there is nothing like a human hand on a machine and this will remain. In the whole age of industrialization we have gone through that.

Today I have got the most sophisticated latest laptop in my hand, but when it breaks down, I need somebody to sit on this and work on it. So, anybody who thinks that everything is going to happen in a virtual cloud, I think he is in a virtual cloud.

Q. What are the critical takeaway points you would suggest for the industry in the days to come?

Mr. R. Ramanathan: The current time is very unfortunate and unexpected. But friends, I think we need to believe that these are bound to come in the way of our process of building and contributing to our nation’s economy, strengthening our businesses, and also our homes. So this is not going to stop only here. Such situations have to be accounted in for our businesses. Post Covid, I feel it will not be the survival of fittest, it will be that of quickest. Adaptability and agility will be quite important. We should have not just annual targets and half-yearly targets to meet our business needs, but should also have a micro plan in place to stay with such new normals. But I hope we will have three good quarters to come up.

Mr. Shankar Gupta: We need to take this as a huge disruption to our lives and our businesses. I have just one request to everybody: use this opportunity to build efficiency of your business. Pharma industry, as compared to FMCG and a few other industries has not been efficient.

So build efficiency through digitization, automation and improving productivity. If that happens, then even in the lean period, and even if there are challenges you can run your business very efficiently and smoothly.

Mr. Ashis Banerjee: We would all have in our life thought that if I had the time to really think and ponder to do things I would have done things much better. So, God willing, this lockdown period should end earlier than the most pessimistic estimates. But we should use this time first to spend quality time with our families, which we have always hankered after. Two, use this time in our own creative ways to think of what we’re going to do once we come out of this pandemic. And three, for God’s sake, please cooperate with the government and the authorities. It’s easy with the gift of hindsight to say that they should have done this or that. But stay safe and stay healthy.

Mr. Narasima Raju: I would say that we keep getting challenges in our life. This is one of the challenges which we are facing right now. Whenever we get challenges, we have to act upon them, and as long as you act upon them and continue moving in our journey, we will absolutely find a different solution. Let us always think that everything has a positive side, and we we’ll get better sooner or later.

Mr. Vishesh Parekh: Be lean and cut your flap, and be ready for the change, because change is going to come. We will overcome this phase. There is no question about it as I said earlier. We will work on this Covid pandemic and life will get back to normal. The only question is that how well are we going to be prepared for the next one? Just one more thing to everybody, please don’t just look at your balance sheet and your bottomline. Think of the guys who are working with you. For you it is probably a number on your balance sheet, but for the poor peon probably working in your office, it is the food on the table for his family. So bear this in mind always.

Mr. Shaunak Dave: My concluding remarks would be: it’s not about the artificial intelligence replacing human intelligence. It’s not about the digital world is replacing the human world. But how the digital technologies can augment the human world to innovate and improve efficiency for the next generation of our manufacturing businesses. I would say that leverage digitization, connect, communicate and collaborate. The technology is there. Why don’t we use it?

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