The impact of connected workers on manufacturing efficiency

Published: 30-Aug-2023

From minute chemical calculations to colossal production scales, every component in pharmaceutical manufacturing has to run like a well-oiled machine. But how does a connected workforce play into this? Erick Whitley from L2L explains

The pharmaceutical manufacturing industry stands at a critical juncture in global healthcare. It's a complex, high-stakes labyrinth where even a minor misstep can trigger a global public health crisis. Yet, amid the myriad challenges, this industry shoulders the essential mission of saving lives.

Efficiency is equally pivotal in this arena. There's no room for slack: from minute chemical calculations to colossal production scales, every component has to run like a well-oiled machine. It's a tall order, and the solution that's emerged is nothing short of revolutionary — the advent of connected workers.

A connected workforce isn’t just equipped with the latest digital tools, it is also driven by real-time, actionable data. Connected workers are professionals who utilise digital tools and real-time data to enhance their performance and decision-making abilities in the workplace. They're part of a digitally-integrated system, able to access, share, and analyse information on demand, thereby improving efficiency, safety, and productivity.

As such, these workers are ready and capable of redefining the limits of pharmaceutical manufacturing. They're transforming the industry, one data point at a time.

The digital transformation

Every sector is feeling the tidal pull of digital transformation, backed up with Industry 4.0 and connected worker technology — and pharmaceutical manufacturing is no exception. This sweeping transformation is not merely about replacing paper with pixels or manual processes with machines. It's an end-to-end revamp of how pharmaceutical companies function, starting from the production lines and all the way to the boardrooms.

But what does this metamorphosis mean for the industry? The answer lies in understanding the impact of connected workers. They’re not just digitising, but revolutionising pharmaceutical manufacturing by:

  • Redefining quality control 
  • Optimising workflows
  • Enhancing safety
  • Streamlining communication

Companies like Merck, for example, showcase the magnitude of the transformation. It saw a 35% surge in production efficiency, which is a testament to the potential of connected workers in this manufacturing revolution. Read on to learn the major benefits of connected workers in the pharmaceutical industry and their impact on companies like Merck and its peers.

Quality control

Quality control isn’t just important in pharmaceutical manufacturing. It’s the bedrock upon which the entire manufacturing sector rests. But here, even the tiniest misstep can quickly snowball into a major crisis. The fallout? Product recalls, harm to patients, and potentially catastrophic financial losses.

Enter the connected worker. Equipped with cutting-edge tech tools, connected workers are transforming the quality control landscape in ways previously unimaginable. It's not just about performing tasks; it’s about enhancing the whole process through data-driven decision making.

Take Pfizer, for instance. When the company integrated a connected worker programme into its operations, it saw a substantial dip in product defects and a significant boost in batch release efficiency

This isn’t just theoretical. Major pharmaceutical companies are already reaping the benefits. Take Pfizer, for instance. When the company integrated a connected worker programme into its operations, it saw a substantial dip in product defects and a significant boost in batch release efficiency. The power of real-time monitoring, fused with instant notifications, enables workers to spot and rectify deviations immediately, nipping potential problems in the bud.

This is the potential of connected workers in action. Harnessing the power of smart technology and data insights, these workers are proving to be game-changers in the quest for flawless production.

Workflow optimisation 

In the world of pharmaceutical manufacturing, intricacy is a given. Think of it as an intricate ballet, where each step must be perfectly timed and flawlessly executed. Even the slightest misstep, the smallest alteration in one stage, can send ripples through the entire performance. That’s why workflow optimisation isn't just a nice-to-have; it’s an absolute necessity.

Connected workers, armed with machine learning algorithms and a continuous stream of real-time data, are the new conductors of this manufacturing symphony. They can spot a misstep before it happens, identify and cut out redundancies, and infuse operational agility into a process often constrained by its own complexity.

The result? A whopping 35% jump in production efficiency

On the shop floor, a connected worker uses digital tools such as wearables, IoT sensors, augmented reality (AR) devices, or mobile apps, with real-time insights on key operational metrics. They can also use visual dashboards for data analysis, smart devices for instant communication, or digital platforms for real-time tracking and reporting.

As previously mentioned, Merck is a global player in the pharmaceutical industry. In its quest for workflow optimisation, the company tapped into “digital twins” — virtual carbon copies of their physical systems. This allowed teams to identify and eliminate bottlenecks in real time.

The result? A whopping 35% jump in production efficiency. And this didn't just happen by magic; it was connected workers using the power of technology and real-time data to orchestrate this remarkable improvement. Their pivotal role in workflow optimisation is transforming pharmaceutical manufacturing from a staid symphony to a dynamic, responsive ballet.

Safety and risk mitigation

In the pharmaceutical industry, safety is much more than a checkbox: the stakes couldn’t be higher, with volatile chemical reactions and exacting procedural protocols part of the everyday routine. Connected workers step in here as well, adding a much-needed layer of protection and precision.

Equipped with wearable tech, these digitally savvy workers offer a proactive approach to safety. Their devices act as vigilant guardians, monitoring everything from worker vitals to environmental conditions and compliance with procedures. This constant surveillance can provide invaluable insights, contributing to a more comprehensive risk prevention strategy.

Bayer, a household name in the pharmaceutical arena, didn’­­t just adopt the connected worker paradigm. The company transformed it into a safety revolution. Its workers, particularly those handling unstable chemicals, were given wearable devices that acted as both shields and sentinels.

These devices were programmed to keep a watchful eye on the working environment and the workers themselves. If they picked up on any anomalies, like a breach of predefined safety thresholds, they would instantly trigger an alarm. The result? A drastic reduction in workplace accidents, and a strategic move that underscored the critical role of connected workers in bolstering safety and risk mitigation.

Communication and collaboration

Communication is about more than just exchanging words, especially in pharmaceutical manufacturing. It's the lifeline that syncs operations, making the difference between a timely product rollout and expensive delays.

Connected workers leverage a variety of digital tools such as instant messaging and collaborative platforms to transform a potentially disjointed process into a seamless exchange of information. It's not just about speed, though. Accuracy is equally critical, and these tools enable it, drastically reducing error margins and improving the time it takes to get a project from concept to completion.

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Let's look at Takeda Pharmaceuticals. It recognised the potential of the connected worker strategy and implemented a programme designed to digitally link its teams across various locations. Team unity was no longer depended on physical proximity but on creating an interconnected digital workspace.

The integration led to significant improvement in project delivery times. Communication became smoother and faster, allowing for more collaborative work and timely decision-making. They ended up not just enhancing communication and collaboration, but redefining it, offering pharmaceutical manufacturers a smarter, more efficient way to do business.

Driving proactive decisions

The connected worker revolution is also shifting the decision-making landscape from reactive to proactive. Connected workers can leverage real-time data to: 

  • Spot trends in production data
  • Identify issues early
  • Make strategic adjustments to processes or protocols
  • Stay ahead of the competition

Eli Lilly was able to develop robust predictive analytics capabilities. Instead of waiting for problems to occur, the company could anticipate potential production issues and implement preventive measures. This shift towards proactive decision making led to notable efficiency gains and substantial cost savings. It also minimised disruptions and optimised performance. 

Navigating regulatory compliance

For pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, compliance is a non-negotiable prerequisite for patient safety and trust. Manufacturers need to comply with a vast array of regulations, from Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) to standards set by regulatory bodies like the FDA and EMA. 

Accurate, real-time record-keeping is critical to this process. Connected workers can facilitate comprehensive tracking, seamless audit trails, and instant access to necessary documentation.

Roche introduced a connected worker platform that enabled an automated, real-time recording of manufacturing processes. This programme not only ensured compliance with regulatory standards but also optimised the use of resources usually allocated to audit preparations. This use case turned into a powerful testament to the role of connected workers in the complex arena of regulatory compliance.

Scaling up and adapting with ease

In a world that's constantly changing, the ability to rapidly respond to shifting demands is critical. Whether it's a sudden surge in production during a health crisis or a shift towards a new therapeutic area, pharmaceutical manufacturers need to be nimble. 

Using cloud-based platforms and data-driven insights, plant leaders can use connected worker platforms to scale operations up or down in response to demand. Real-time data also allows a rapid redeployment of resources to address changing production needs.

AstraZeneca is a compelling example of this flexibility in action. Faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, the company leveraged its connected worker programme to ramp up vaccine production. This involved making real-time adjustments in production schedules, reallocating resources, and optimising workflows. 

AstraZeneca met the sudden surge in global vaccine demand, highlighting the critical role of connected workers in enabling flexible, responsive manufacturing.


The dawn of the connected worker era brings transformative potential to pharmaceutical manufacturing. With digital tools and real-time data access, these workers are set to redefine quality control, workflow optimisation, safety, communication, and decision making in the industry. The additional benefits of regulatory compliance, and the scalability and flexibility in production, further underscore the profound impact of this approach.

However, successful adoption comes with its share of challenges, such as the need for upskilling workers, data security considerations, and potential resistance to change. It's upon pharmaceutical manufacturers to navigate this transition thoughtfully and strategically, aligning the journey with their unique operational context and workforce capabilities.

Nonetheless, the potential benefits far outweigh the hurdles. As we look ahead, the integration of connected workers could herald an era of unprecedented efficiency, safety, and resilience in pharmaceutical manufacturing. The implications extend far beyond the manufacturing floor, potentially translating into a more robust healthcare system and healthier societies.

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