2018 Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR) Insights – Survey

  • July 22, 2019
  • Feature
2018 Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR) Insights – Survey
2018 Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR) Insights – Survey

By Bill Lydon, Contributing Editor, Automation.com 

Automation and technology are shaping multiple industries day after day, and it is fascinating to see industry leaders discuss the results. Every year, I have embraced the opportunity to attend the Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR) meetings, as the only outside observer, for this exact reason. Lead automation engineers from around the world attended this user only, two-day event sharing their collective insights. This group of engineers boasts a wealth of practical knowledge and expertise, yet is always willing to share with other participants resulting in a collaborative learning environment for all.  Thus, I have found the PAR meetings to represent one of the most knowledgeable groups of automation professionals gathered in one place, at any one time, to discuss automation issues, and the 2018 event was no exception.


2018 PAR Benchmark Survey

Perhaps one of the most insightful resources at the 2018 roundtable is the presentation of the Pharmaceutical Automation Roundtable (PAR) survey results. Dave Adler, or Brillig Systems, conducted and presented the results of this year’s PAR survey at the group’s 2018 face-to-face meeting.  The PAR survey is completed by the group and their associates prior to the PAR meeting.  This year, there were 35 responses from 22 participating pharmaceutical companies, reporting anonymously.  This article will share a summary of automation technology trends and Industry 4.0 which were presented. 

Trends - Industry 4.0/Factory of the Future

Answers from the 2018 survey were contrasted with data from past surveys that ask the question:


What is your current experience with these technologies in manufacturing?

Cyber Security – Strong activity for the majority of respondents.

Big Data - Strong activity for the clear majority of respondents and reflects a large increase of activity since the 2016 survey.

Cloud Computing - About 50% have activity and there is a steep increase in activity since the 2011 survey.

Robotics - About 50% have activity reflecting a strong increase in activity since the 2016 survey.

IoT - Less than 20% have activity and about 40% have pilot projects.

Vision Systems - Just short of 80% of respondents indicated using vision system with over 60% citing frequent use.  The use trend increase sharply 2011 – 2016 and declined slightly between 2016 to 2018.

Smart Field Devices - Over 70% are using smart field devices which is been on a steady increase over time.

PAR Participant Comments

  • Smart field device technology hasn’t seemed to change in the last 20 years. 
  • We have had a hard time justifying smart communicating sensors over 4-20 mA.   We have those discussions on every project.
  • We use 4- 20 mA sensors connected to gateways that communicate using industrial protocols.
  • We have received too many false alarms from smart devices.


On-line PAT (Process Automation Technology)

Current Experience: 25% frequently used PAT and just under 40% frequently use. 

Use Trend 2011-2018: There was a big jump in use reported from 2011 to 2016 to over 60%, which has remained basically flat through 2018.

PAR Participant Comments

  • Our experience is PAT devices are like lab instruments that typically run on a PC which creates a number of support and cybersecurity issues.
  • We have been applying PAT into newer products, almost everything that comes out of our research has some type of PAT.  There only a few instruments that are industrial grade that limits what we can do.
  • It takes a lot of support and maintenance to keep PAT devices running.  “They break like every other day and need attention”.


Wireless Technology

This topic is plant floor wireless instrumentation exclusive of versus business LAN wireless.

Current Experience: less than 10% regularly use, about 15% frequently use and about 45% report limited use.

Use Trend 2011 – 2018: there was a steep rise in the application of wireless between 2011 two 2016 with steady but lower growth through 2018.

PAR Participant Comments

  • We are  using traditional sensors (4-20 ma) and connecting them to something that puts them on the industrial network.
  • Vendors are pricing wireless instruments at a premium based on wiring savings and charging a large premium price making it the drive to go to wireless not nearly as attractive as it could be.
  • There are new disruptive companies coming up with wireless that are way better and more cost-effective than traditional industrial offerings.


Software Defined Networks

This topic is specifically focused on the application for manufacturing floor computing and not on enterprise applications.

Current Experience: about 5% frequent use, about 12% reported limited use, the vast majority over 70% were undecided or had no experience.

PAR Participant Comments

  • Vendors and IT departments are talking about software defined networks.
  • I don’t know any automation vendors that supports software defined networks.
  • Ideally suited for R&D departments.


Robotics (All types)

Current Experience: under 5% frequent use, about 18% reported limited use, over 40% have pilot projects.

Use Trend 2016 – 2018: This area has seen a sharp increase.

PAR Participant Comments

  • Robotics has a lot of interest internally.
  • It is coming into all types of applications.
  • Some our machine vendors in the past would’ve designed a very custom set of mechanisms inside the machine.  Now they are exploring the possibility for robot arm inside the machine making it very flexible.  Functionality can be changed to meet future needs.
  • We are seeing a lag in the new technology adoption by existing vendors.  We are going to non-traditional suppliers.


Autonomous Vehicles (AGVs, etc.)

Current Experience: about 20% reported frequent use, 25% limited use, 10% pilots, over 35% no applications.

PAR Participant Comments

  • We are looking at all kinds of use cases and writing up a whole series of concepts.


Augmented reality

Current Experience: small percentage using, just under 40% have pilot projects.

Use Trend 2016 – 2018: slight decline.

PAR Participant Comments

  • We have a program looking for what those good use cases are for augmented reality.


Additive Manufacturing

Current Experience: small percentage applying, approximately 20% have pilot projects, over 40% of projects

PAR Participant Comments

  • We have pushed additive manufacturing off to the side because we don’t really see applications.



Current Experience: approximately34% view MES as Mature with  over 40% reporting frequent use.

Use Trend 2011 – 2018: Since 2008 survey there has been a steady rise in use of MES.

PAR Participant Comments

  • ERP systems cannot satisfy workflow instruction requirements providing by MES systems.
  • ISA95, how many more years can we before we have to rewrite it?
  • We are seeing the democratization of MES, now you have to have a staff of IT people.  We are seeing new systems where the editing and management of the work instruction is done by the person who owns the process.  That is really interesting since MES in the past has a huge value proposition, but the project and lifecycle costs have been huge.



Current Experience: Approximately 15% report frequent use and just over 20 % limited use.

Use Trend 2011 – 2018: Since this is the first year for the question there is no trend.

PAR Participant Comments

  • We are doing more with the same number of people so there is not time to implement simulation.
  • Building a simulation that is comprehensive is costly and expensive to maintain .
  • Historically we do simulation for testing, what I have noticed is there is not been any big improvement in any of the simulation tools .  It is still hard to get those set up with whatever control system you’re running.  There hasn’t been much change in the ease of use. 
  • We have a facility where we paid a huge amount of money to simulate the entire facility and it was out of date in months.
  • Supply chain simulation for planning and scheduling is becoming more prevalent but not in automation.


The Emerging Technology - Biometrics

The survey also looked into emerging technologies and their effect on the industry, and one such technology that users discussed was biometrics.

PAR Participant Comments

  • It still surprises me that biometrics is not matured for use in our industry.  We keep trying but it’s still not there. The applications are authentication and access.
  • We have a project next year to apply an iris scanner.


About PAR


PAR was founded about 19 years ago by Dave Adler and John Krenzke, both with Eli Lilly and Company.  At the time, the purpose of the PAR roundtable was to provide a means of benchmarking and sharing best practices for automation groups among peer pharmaceutical companies. The group specifically does not discuss confidential or proprietary information, cost or price of products, price or other terms of supply contracts, plans to do business or not do business with specific suppliers, contractors, or other companies.

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