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The Importance of Process Engineering in the Pharmaceutical Industry


The work of a pharmaceutical process engineer underlies the success of every new drug launch. By ensuring the safety, efficiency and optimisation of manufacturing processes, process engineers in pharma pave the way for vital medications, and drugs to reach the market, and support patients.

In this article, you can expect to learn:

  • What pharmaceutical process engineering involves
  •  Key responsibilities of process engineers in the pharmaceutical industry
  •  How process engineers impact the pharmaceutical industry
  • What the future holds for pharmaceutical process engineers


What is pharmaceutical process engineering

Process engineering in the pharmaceutical industry focuses on the end-to-end manufacture of drugs and medication. 

Pharmaceutical process engineers optimise and improve manufacturing efficiency while maintaining product quality. Achieving this means leveraging industry-specific technologies and methodologies to drive cost savings, while ensuring product and equipment robustness.


Key responsibilities of process engineers in the pharmaceutical industry 

On a day-to-day basis, pharmaceutical process engineers maintain equipment, design manufacturing processes, and maintain strategic oversight of the sterile processing environment.

Key responsibilities include:

  • Developing, evaluating and optimising end-to-end industrial processes, from ideation to certification
  • Selecting and integrating new equipment and services 
  • Running regular risk assessments of both equipment and processes
  • Evaluating the process capability of equipment and delivering reports to senior management.


How process engineers impact the pharmaceutical industry

Fewer new molecules are coming to market, and the expiry of existing patents means the pharmaceutical industry is under immense pressure to rapidly replace key revenue-generating drugs.

Process engineers maintain, and optimise the manufacturing environment, enabling new manufacturing technologies and processes that cut costs and speed time to market.

This enables pharmaceutical organisations to make the most of their patent duration, and achieve a better return on profit, which consequently provides more resources for investment in innovation. 

Research from the Harvard Business Review shows that the effects of innovative process engineering are cumulative. The earlier a company invests in process optimisation, the greater the monetary return. However, the longer a company delays process optimisation, the more likely it becomes that the improvements created by process optimisation will simply lead to excess capacity.

Pharmaceutical process engineers have a critical role to play as mediators between the manufacturing environment, and senior leadership; their reports, recommendations and optimisation processes will influence the extent to which costs are reduced, innovation is enabled, and high financial returns are achieved.


What does the future hold for pharmaceutical process engineers?

There is a surge in demand for better manufacturing processes that has been heightened by active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) shortages across the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the globe, organisations are actively seeking to establish domestic manufacturing capabilities and invest in the right technologies and expertise to ensure they achieve the most efficient and productive yield possible.

Manufacturing technology innovation in the pharmaceutical industry is flourishing.

The most significant technologies include:

Continuous Manufacturing

Process trains in continuous manufacturing systems constantly receive, and process raw materials into finished products. As this happens continuously, continuous manufacturing generates a significant amount of product despite the amount of material generated being relatively small. 

Continuous manufacturing improves scalability and can speed time to market, lowering capital and operating costs while enhancing quality. 

Robotic Process Automation

In robotic process automation, software drives normal rule-based activities, freeing up personnel time for higher-value operations.

The technology itself consists of software that logs into programmes, enters information and data, evaluates and completes tasks, and then logs out. Implementing this technology enables legal and regulatory compliance at speed and can help lower expenses. 

Single Use Systems

Single use systems modularize manufacturing, enabling organisations to use the same floor space to manufacture different low volume products. The systems reduce the potential of cross-contamination, facilitate rapid changeovers, and help increase flexibility and scalability

The right process engineering guidance can unlock competitive advantage in the pharmaceutical industry, enabling innovation, profit, and continued business success.


Interested in a new pharmaceutical process engineer role?

Looking for a new opportunity in pharmaceutical process engineering? Check out our available roles here.

You can also connect with our Head of Sector – Pharma & FMCG Engineering, Joe Tiffin on Linkedin 

Joe is responsible for leading SRG's recruitment of Engineering and Production staff across the Pharmaceutical, Biopharmaceutical & Life Science sector working with a number of Top 10 Global Pharmaceutical organisations as well as SME’s.

Joe works across both contract and permanent markets, and supports with candidates across the following disciplines: CAPEX projects (Managers/Engineers), Process, Maintenance, Engineering management, Validation, Commissioning and Production Management

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