Bringing a drug to market can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. The failure rate is steep, with only one in every 5,000 screened drugs getting approved. And it’s a long, winding road to market, with the drug development process taking an average of 12 years and costing upwards of $2.6 billion.
And even for the drugs that do get approved, manufacturing isn’t always straightforward. Process deviations and ineffective collaboration results in lost batches, delays, and resource waste.
But AR/VR technology is shifting this reality. Headsets equipped with augmented capabilities give researchers access to on-the-spot feedback, process directives, and troubleshooting in real time. As a result, the challenges associated with drug production are greatly reduced.
In this article, we’ll first explore augmented and virtual reality: what they are, and how they’re used. We’ll then dive into the top 5 ways they’re transforming life science manufacturing.
- AR, VR, and MR: An Overview
- The List: 5 Ways Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality Are Transforming Manufacturing in Life Science
- Closing Thoughts: AR/VR Tech Is Here to Stay
- Tempo: AR/VR Tech, Made for the Cloud
AR, VR, and MR: An Overview
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality (AR) connects the physical world to the digital world. Through devices like tablets and smartphones, AR layers digital elements such as text, videos, photos, and holograms into real-world environments.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality (VR) is a full immersion into a simulated 3D environment. In this scenario, users interact with a completely virtual world through headsets, glasses, or other devices.
What is Mixed Reality?
Mixed reality (MR) blends together elements of both AR and VR, providing users with a unique experience that allows them to interact with their physical environment while also immersing themselves in a digital environment.
How is AR/VR tech used in life science manufacturing?
COVID has ushered in a new era of manufacturing for the life sciences industry. From travel restrictions to lockdowns and the eventual shift to remote work, organizations were forced to quickly rethink how to successfully operate.
Rather than falling behind, many organizations opted to adopt AR/VR technology.
“We saw a massive surge in [AR/VR] usage during the COVID pandemic, as many organizations had to carry out more remote functions than ever before.”
— Angelo Stracquatanio, Apprentice CEO
Scientists and engineers can collaborate in real time while overseeing production virtually, with collaborative features such as:
- Augmented reality overlays
- Guided demonstrations
- Video conferencing
AR technology enables industry professionals to improve collaboration, resource management, and workflow execution. Since feedback is provided on the spot, equipment failure and process deviations can be minimized.
Now, let’s explore the top 5 ways AR/VR is transforming life science manufacturing.
The List: 5 Ways Augmented Reality & Virtual Reality Are Transforming Manufacturing in Life Science
#1: AR/VR improves execution accuracy
Once drugs are approved for manufacturing, operators and scientists have to follow precise guidelines to ensure the safety and efficacy of each batch.
Any deviations in the process result in costly mistakes, such as drug shortages, delays, and lost batches. For example, Emergent’s manufacturing errors resulted in the loss of 75 million Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccines.
AR/VR technology streamlines the entire workflow process. With the power to customize and annotate workflows with augmented overlays, professionals working to manufacture drugs can increase the clarity and specificity of their communications. This provides a way to produce batches faster without sacrificing safety.
As a result, drug manufacturing is streamlined — meaning critical medicine is delivered to those in need in a fraction of the time, all while saving time and money.
#2: AR/VR reduces manual errors
Data capture and transcription are essential to life sciences manufacturing. In the absence of these records, scientists and engineers can’t reproduce or test their findings during process development.
And in the later stages of drug production, thorough records are essential to meet quality assurance and auditing requirements.
So how does all this data get captured? These days, a lot of drug development data is still captured on good ‘ole paper. Although this may seem like a safe option (it’s thousands of years old, after all), paper is often a breeding ground for manual errors. It isn’t ideal for communicating the vast amounts of data needed to ensure processes get replicated safely and accurately.
That’s where AR tech comes in. AR reduces the likelihood of errors through features such as arrows and laser pointers. These augmented tools allow manufacturers to assign instructions to specific areas and pieces of equipment.
In this way, teammates can superimpose their specific guidance in the manufacturing suite to provide more precise instructions for a given step in a procedure. And unlike real-life guidelines like binders of paper, these instructions can be easily updated and moved around.
Best of all, they don’t take up any space in the 3D world, making them convenient and impervious to readability concerns such as water damage and general wear and tear.
#3: AR/VR promotes effective collaboration
Many pharma companies have production facilities around the world, which makes in-person collaboration a challenge.
Pre-COVID, employees often traveled from one location to another to work together. However, as the world shifted to remote work, off-site collaboration became paramount to the ongoing success of life science manufacturing companies.
Enter AR technology. Equipped with mobile, tablet, and wearable devices, users gain access to tools such as arrows, laser pointers, and live drawing.
However, AR on its own isn’t enough to facilitate collaboration. Only by integrating AR tech with virtual collaboration software can teams unlock the full benefits of augmented tools.
If a tree falls in a forest but no one’s there to dial in remotely to watch it get felled through the logger’s point of view, did it even fall?
AR-enabled remote collaboration tech provides instant access to their teammates’ data sets, processes, and field of view. In addition, they can draw upon another user’s field of vision to make crucial clarifications in real time.
When combined with collaboration software, AR capabilities allow manufacturers to navigate and annotate their teammates’ environments in real time, making it easy to collaborate without missing a beat — from anywhere in the world.
#4: AR/VR leads to more informed decision making
Drug production is a complex process that can take up to 12 years to complete. Beginning with preclinical research to clinical research, and eventually, commercialization, every step requires operators and scientists to make informed decisions.
To accelerate this process, life science professionals are turning to AR technology.
The benefits of leveraging this technology include:
- Intuitive authoring
- Augmented instructions
- Precise guidance
- Ability to scale batches up and down
These capabilities enable manufacturing teams to adjust production steps as needed, letting them optimize production for a number of different cases. Plus, teams can overlay augmented guidance and adjustments on their recipes in real time, letting them adapt to issues and resolve them promptly.
Above all, AR tech gives a way to communicate immediate resolutions for any complications that arise through augmented, real-time guidance. This prevents batch loss and expedites the transition from preclinical to clinical, and commercial.
#5: AR/VR Accelerates Manufacturing
In 2021 there were 121 drug shortages, which meant bad news for millions of people.
In the US alone, more than 66% of adults rely on prescription drugs to treat various conditions. As such, manufacturing delays and drug shortages mean people may lose access to the medication they rely on.
Downtime is unavoidable, and can stem from errors, inefficiencies, or quality issues. In order to speed up the manufacturing process and minimize downtime, organizations are turning to AR capabilities.
AR tech-enabled annotation tools allow manufacturers to:
- Overlay location-specific and equipment-specific guidance throughout the manufacturing suite
- Troubleshoot issues from anywhere in the world with real-time overlay capabilities
- Communicate across, devices, time zones, and even languages (circles and arrows are universal, after all)
In addition, these augmented annotations can be updated instantly and painlessly. This means that needed adjustments can be communicated quickly and efficiently to operators on the floor.
As a result, it takes less time to manufacture drugs, enabling life science organizations to bring treatments to market faster — without unnecessary shortages and delays.
Closing Thoughts: AR/VR Tech Is Here to Stay
When it comes to drug manufacturing, life science professionals face various challenges including steep costs, regulatory burdens, and resource waste brought on by errors. To mitigate these challenges and accelerate manufacturing, life science organizations are turning to AR/VR tech.
Augmented tools can help life science manufacturing companies:
- Decrease friction
- Speed up workflow
- Optimize production
- Enhance collaboration
- Make more informed decisions
And who doesn't want that? It's a win-win for manufacturers and patients alike.
Equipped with the right information at the right time, life science professionals can record and monitor processes, collaborate seamlessly, and commercialize drugs faster. Which means that patients can get the therapeutics they need faster and with fewer complications.
The bottom line: AR/VR technology isn’t a passing, COVID-era fad. It’s the future of drug discovery and development.
Tempo: AR/VR Tech, Made for the Cloud
Unlike on-prem hardware, which is tethered to specific locations and channels, cloud tech allows users to move freely, collaborate better, and unlock key data on-demand. So it comes as no surprise adoption is on the rise, with 94% of businesses using public, private, or hybrid cloud technologies.
At Apprentice, our AR/VR solutions are cloud-native and built to optimize speed and accuracy. Our Tempo Manufacturing Cloud allows your team to operate in real time from a single shared system that combines both manufacturing and lab execution systems.
The cloud is the future, and that’s why it’s the perfect environment for augmented reality. Harness the power of Tempo, and accelerate the drug manufacturing process from A to Z.
Want to learn more about how AR/VR technology can help your organization accelerate drug development and manufacturing? Our team of industry experts is here to help.