Dijam Panigrahi, Grid Raster
A handful of industries have continued to expand during the COVID-19 pandemic. None are more prominent than the pharmaceutical technology industry. Although the pharma tech industry has faced supply chain challenges in 2020, it has outperformed the broader manufacturing sector.
While the pandemic itself is bolstering interest in new pharmaceutical therapies, technologies ranging from automation to mixed reality have helped pharma tech manufacturers maintain factory output. One example is augmented reality technology, which provides an immersive experience that blends the physical and digital worlds. Indeed, companies such as Bayer have experimented with augmented reality for 10 years. The technology has also gained ground in pharma, given its potential to streamline manufacturing.
The rising use of augmented reality (AR) in the pharma tech field is part of a broader trend. The AR market will reach $70–75 billion in revenue by 2023.
Not all AR/VR platform environments are created equal
Despite the technology’s potential, pharma tech manufacturers should be careful when selecting a platform for deploying AR or virtual reality (VR) technologies. Even though technologies like AR/VR have been in use for several years, many pharma tech manufacturers have deployed virtual approaches built on an on-premise environment, where the technology data is stored locally. A few years ago, this strategy was the de facto approach for this type of technology. Nevertheless, on-premise AR/VR infrastructures limit the speed and scalability needed for today’s virtual designs for medical devices. This approach also can inhibit knowledge sharing between organizations, which can be critical when designing new products and understanding the best way for virtual buildouts.
Cloud-based automation technologies proving pivotal
Pharma tech manufacturers are overcoming these limitations with cloud-based (or remote-server-based) AR/VR platforms powered by distributed cloud architecture and 3-D vision-based AI. These cloud platforms have advantages related to performance and scalability.
Enterprise-grade high-quality AR/VR platforms require both performance and scale. Existing systems such as the Microsoft HoloLens and others are severely limited in both aspects. Most enterprises have a rich repository of existing complex 3D CAD/CAM models created over the years. These 3D models may vary in their complexity, such as polycount, hierarchy, details, etc. making it difficult to run and excel within on-premise virtual platform environments restricted by device limitations. This reality forces developers to create 3D models or scenes to fit different mobile devices, potentially spending months in the process. The result is often a suboptimal user experience.
As these virtual environments become richer, the problems continue to compound. This cycle is repeated for each of the AR/VR hardware platforms, making it difficult for any enterprise to move from experiments and pilots to full-scale deployments, thus stunting the speed of innovation and effectiveness.
The device limitations also severely restrict existing AR/VR systems’ capability to generate and use a fine mesh with large polygon count models and point clouds. This capability, however, is essential to collocate and precisely fuse the virtual objects on top of physical objects in the real world with complex surfaces and varied lighting and environments.
Pharma tech manufacturers are overcoming this challenge by partnering with providers of cloud-based (or remote server-based) AR/VR platforms powered by distributed cloud architecture and 3D vision-based AI. These AR/VR cloud platforms provide the desired performance and scalability.
Preparing for the next technology wave
Manufacturers today are experiencing the next wave of technology innovation that will fundamentally alter the way they operate. This transformation is primarily driven by merging the digital and physical worlds to create a better, smarter and more efficient way of operating. Immersive technologies such as AR/VR technologies are playing a pivotal role in this transformation. The organizations that take a leadership role will be the ones that not only leverage these technologies, but they will partner with the right technology provider to help scale appropriately without having to stunt technological growth.
Dijam Panigrahi is co-founder and chief operating officer of Grid Raster, which focuses on scaling AR/VR projects.
The opinions expressed in this post are the author’s only and do not necessarily reflect those of Pharmaceutical Processing World or its employees.