Tuesday 28 March 2023

The Importance of HMI in Pharmaceuticals

Image: By Peter Morville; Andrew Lehti - https://oryzo.com/user-interface-design/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84148478

Human-machine interfaces (HMI) allow users to interact with controllers by engaging with hardware or software, typically to influence industrial equipment. Many products under the HMI umbrella are incredibly familiar and low-tech, including keyboards and mice. However, people can also use touch-sensitive screens and virtual reality (VR) headsets. Here are vital details about the importance of HMI in pharmaceuticals.

By Emily Newton

Improving Training Through Interactive Methods


Pharmaceutical industry training can be intense because of strict regulations and the need to take extraordinary care when manufacturing products that patients ingest or inject. However, people are exploring how technologies such as VR and augmented reality (AR) could make training more effective and interesting. 



For example, students at Ireland’s Technological University Dublin can learn powder-handling techniques while wearing VR headsets. Estimates suggest pharmaceutical companies could save up to $1,079 weekly by using this approach to worker education.


Students who can learn fundamental techniques in a virtual environment will likely grasp the necessary skills before applying them in the real world. Thus, VR could sharpen their skills, minimizing the chances of making mistakes that cost money or put themselves and others at risk.


Similarly, AR can provide visual reminders in physical spaces. These are especially useful to people early in their pharmaceutical careers or those with low confidence. AR hardware or software might remind people to put on gowns before entering a room. Employees could also pull up digital checklists on AR devices. That enables them to refer to the correct process steps while keeping their hands free and engaging with content that seems to float in the air.


These examples highlight the importance of HMI for giving pharmaceutical workers the information they need to work safely and productively. However, other industries are also rapidly adopting VR and AR-based HMI technology. Data from Statista estimates 21 million such enterprise-based devices will be used worldwide by 2030.

Supporting Automation Plans


Automation is another area where the importance of HMI in pharmaceuticals becomes evident. Decision-makers within and outside the pharmaceutical industry frequently choose to automate processes whenever feasible. That brings more consistency to operations and decreases the likelihood of errors that could lead to product recalls, regulatory scrutiny, lost profits and other undesirable outcomes. Automated technologies are not error-proof but work well when applied to repetitive actions, such as those occurring in a pharmaceutical plant.


HMI can alert people to problems before they become catastrophic. Considering the worth of the collective products manufactured by most pharmaceutical plants, being warned about disruptive issues could protect the bottom line and associated operations.


Pharmaceutical decision-makers also invest in HMI when initiating or improving their automation plans. One 2023 study found 75% of pharmaceutical companies want to increase their use of automated solutions. The rising trends of more injectables and individualized drugs drove that outcome.


In one real-life instance related to injectables, a contract manufacturer invested in a fully automated fill/finish line that dispensed products into containers, including syringes and vials. The associated system has a programmable logic controller and a human-machine interface with a touch-screen panel. This solution can process up to 3,000 units every hour.


This use of automation ensures the sterility of injectable drugs. That’s critical for helping pharmaceutical companies meet quality control goals and reduce recalls. However, this is just one example that highlights the importance of HMI in pharmaceuticals. Automated solutions that incorporate human-machine interfaces will become more prominent as companies in this space face increasing demands to produce more products in a shorter time without sacrificing safety.

Revealing the Importance of HMI Through Further Research


Researchers continually look for new and creative ways to use HMI in their work. Many of these efforts could impact pharmaceutical companies and numerous other industries.


In one recent example, a North Carolina State University team created a stretchable strain sensor that’s more sensitive and versatile than other options. The researchers tested their innovation by building wearable sensors to measure blood pressure and back movement. They also made a human-machine interface that involved a 3D touch controller that let someone engage with a video game.


It’s easy to see how pharmaceutical companies could benefit from both those test applications. Using such sensors to monitor people’s vital signs or activity levels could be useful once a new drug reaches the human trials stage, allowing leaders to get more accurate data about a product’s effectiveness and possible safety risks. Plus, sensors that enable people to control a video game bode well for future applications that could be more tailored to industrial environments.


In another case, UCLA and Stanford University researchers built encrypted human-machine interface technology that details a person’s physiology. A signal-interpretation framework and hydrogel-coated chemical sensors provide specifics about someone’s blood composition, including the pharmaceuticals in it.


That could be useful to tell scientists at pharmaceutical companies necessary specifics about why patients react to drugs in certain ways, including how quickly they metabolize them. Such information could help in the early stages of product development and during clinical trials.

The Importance of HMI Is Clear


This overview shows that human-machine interfaces have played an essential role in the pharmaceutical industry and will continue to influence it. The sector requires tight operating standards, and options that improve how people interact with machines are welcomed because they can reduce errors and maintain high output.


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