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Innovation, research and development

IMA’s vocation in the pursuit of innovation reflects its strong orientation to be seen as a solution provider rather than just as a product vendor. This approach has always been a distinguishing characteristic of IMA and has resulted in a strong market leadership position. Research and development costs in 2020 amount to 60.2 million euros, higher than the 53.9 million euros spent last year, representing 4.0% of revenue. This item primarily includes the research costs incurred on the technological upgrading and normal revamping of standard products. The cost of customizing standard products and the cost of custom-made developments on the specific request of the customer are not included, as they are part of the cost of sales and, as such, invoiced directly to the clients.

THE ORGANIZATION OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AND INNOVATION

Given the complexity of the markets in which it operates and the dynamism of its growth, IMA requires a greater centrality and transversality of research and development skills, implemented by following two guidelines:

• research and development of machinery and equipment in a specific market segment, carried out within the individual divisions;

• experimentation and implementation of new technologies, technological scouting, creation of international cooperation relations, cooperation with research centres, carried out by the innovation structure.

In IMA, the development of innovation is widespread, deriving from the ideas of individuals, from Marketing inputs, from the analysis of machines, from collaborative innovation or from scouting enabling technologies.

To ensure the dissemination of knowledge and stimulate new ideas, new hires from the Research & Development departments follow a path of continuous training on technological innovation, for example on real time operating systems, on the software framework produced for the use of Personal Computers as a machine controller, on mechatronics, on the development of industrial software for automatic machines.

These technologies are developed with a view to implementing open innovation, fostering cooperation worldwide and with research centres, and taking part in funded projects. IMA is consolidating its presence in Boston by supporting the creation of innovative start-ups and working with departments of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on projects of mutual interest. The various activities include collaboration with Continuus Pharmaceuticals Inc. and INKBIT LLC, both spin-outs from the Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT) based in Boston. In particular, in 2017 IMA contributed to the establishment of INKBIT LLC, an additive manufacturing project, which is a highly innovative technology based on the integration of AI (artificial intelligence) techniques with the additive printing process.
Given that IMA is a leader in the production of machines and plants for the pharmaceutical industry, cooperating with Continuus Pharmaceuticals Inc. permits to access new integrated continuous manufacturing technologies that increase the efficiency and speed of the manufacturing process for pharmaceutical active ingredients. In Silicon Valley, IMA activated a design thinking project on collaborative robotics, in cooperation with the Alma Mater Studiorum – University of Bologna, which involveda group of talented students from University of Bologna and Stanford University (SUGAR/ME310 project). The smart machine and smart factory projects are being developed in cooperation with research centres and funded projects.

The currently active projects are:

  • ROSSINI (Horizon 2020): design and development of modular platforms for the integration of robotic technologies and human operators in an industrial environment;
  • IDM (IMA Digital Manufacturing), co-financed by the Emilia-Romagna Regional Authorities: creation of an IMA research centre to support digitisation of the Supply Chain and the use of additive manufacturing;
  • I-MECH, co-financed by the European Commission and MIUR: intelligent mechatronic systems.
  • SENECA (Systems Enabling Efficient Cognitive Automation), financed by the Ministry of Economic Development and the Emilia-Romagna Regional Authorities: projects of cognitive automation, advanced sensors, autonomy, simulation and artificial intelligence;
  • Seven projects managed by the BI-REX Competence Center and co-financed by the Ministry of Economic Development on the topics of additive manufacturing, big data, cyber-security and predictive maintenance.

RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT AND INNOVATION WORLDWIDE

The other IMA companies around the world are also supporting various projects and cooperating on research and development with universities and research institutes.
In the United States, IMA companies work in cooperation with several technical schools and universities on school-work alternance and internship projects. Other research projects have been developed in cooperation with local universities, associations and research bodies.
In Asia, several IMA companies are members of international research and development associations, such as ISPE (International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering) and IPEM (International Pharmaceutical Engineering Management).

PATENTS FILED AND GRANTED IN 2020 (out of a total of more than 1,700 patents and patent applications pending worldwide)

 

 

PATENT APPLICATIONS FILED (OF WHICH DESIGN)

PATENTS GRANTED (OF WHICH DESIGN)
IMA Life North America inc. 9 18
Telerobot S.p.A. 2 0
Corazza S.p.A. 3 28

Ilapak Italia S.p.A.

1 8

IMA Medtech Switzerland SA

0 2

Ilapak International SA

1 0
IMA 114 262

Teknoweb Converting S.r.l

1

0

Perfect Pack S.r.l.

1

0

 

IMA DIGITAL

 

IMA continues to focus its development activities on digital innovation and the implementation of technologies linked to Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing formats. All the strategies for technological growth have been incorporated in IMA Digital, a global project that involves all sectors of the Company. The initiative aims to create products and services aimed at supporting partners and customers in technological advancement. The concept of smart machines, and more generally related products, has led to creation of the new Connected Machines DataOps function, linking IT and OT and applied to data derived from manufacturing and to the related management and processing services. The following are some of the technologies on which IMA has focused its attention:

• IIOT;
• Artificial Intelligence;
• Collaborative robotics;
• Advanced automation;
• Additive manufacturing;
• Big Data.

To give the initiative organic unity and planning, four macro-areas of reference and development have been identified.
Each area grouped together projects and activities having the same purpose:

Smart Machines: an area that has seen efforts to achieve interconnection and digitisation of the plants. Related projects: Connected Machines, Sentinel App, HMI 4.0, Cobots and Artificial Intelligence.

Smart Services: an area that saw the creation of services to be proposed to partners and customers. Related projects: Connected Field Force, Smart Service Suite, Digital Room, Service Portal.

Smart Factory: an area dedicated to the enhancement and innovation of IMA’s physical infrastructure. Related projects: Smart Manufacturing, Digital Working, Smart Material Flow, Additive Manufacturing, Virtual Commissioning, Connected Supply Chain, Enterprise PaLM, Smart Documentation.

Smart Organization: an area dedicated to the development of digital solutions for the improvement of communication and the growth of skills of IMA employees. Related projects: Business Intelligence Dashboards, Human Capital Management, Global IT Service Desk, Quality 4.0, Global Intranet, E-learning, Enterprise Planning.

THE MAIN INNOVATIONS AT IMA IN 2020

The impact of COVID-19 extended to innovation as well. In fact, during the initial phase of the pandemic, IMA decided to focus skills and resources on the development, as quickly as possible, of a high-speed line for the production and packaging of surgical masks. In addition to the entire supply chain, this project involved various IMA businesses around the world, starting with Teknoweb Converting, which provided the ideas and the basic machine to be worked on, and Ilapak and Ciemme for the final packaging.
The first line, known as FACE 400, was delivered in less than two months and was selected inter alia by the civil protection agency to produce surgical masks in order to help satisfy needs at a national level. IMA Active went as far as exploring Continuous Manufacturing, the new production paradigm that combines together into series the various production technologies, ensuring an uninterrupted flow of materials, from raw materials to the finished pharmaceutical.
The process is constantly monitored in real time thanks to the latest generation of PAT instruments and upstream and downstream regulation algorithms, so as to obtain a product that is invariably compliant. Recent studies on the possible increase in efficiency arising from the implementation of Continuous Manufacturing in the pharmaceutical sector show the drug cost would be lower by up to 40% than the current batch production, a reduction of up to 80% in the size of plants, with a consequent reduction in energy consumption, and a reduction in production times of up to 90%, with an increase in the quality of the drug. CROMA, the new continuous tablet coating machine, marked IMA’s first step towards Continuous Manufacturing. Scaled to work downstream of a medium speed tablet press, CROMA is designed to work on a continuous and seamless product flow through the modules. Modularity is the key feature of the project: CROMA can mount up to four modules, which can be connected either in series for increased weight tolerance, or in parallel for a greater capacity. The result is maximum flexibility in terms of machine configurations and process performance.

IMA SAFE is exploring innovative and flexible packaging systems suitable for the production of small batches and innovative sensors applicable to its systems. Various examples include:

  • Trit-one: robotised cartoning island. Modular cartoning machine suitable for producing virtually any pharmaceutical package without the need for format parts;
  • New count sensor: a sensor for counters, capable of detecting flaws in the tablets with great precision before final packaging.

 

IMA AND PRODUCT SUSTAINABILITY

Growing attention to environmental sustainability issues within IMA, the industry and worldwide has triggered multiple projects and initiatives. In the processing and packaging machinery industry, actions aimed at reducing impact on the environment are geared to develop new solutions and use sustainable packaging materials, while reducing the consumption of resources during production. For some time now, IMA’s development policies have generated themed projects, working side by side with high profile customers and partners. The network of OPENLAB laboratories has been strengthened by the of a new laboratory in Ozzano, which will work alongside the Ilapak facilities in Lugano and Arezzo to support conscious usage of wrapping materials and the development of flexible, eco-sustainable primary packaging. The essential activities of the laboratory are:

• support the internal divisions of the business and our customers, ensuring that wrapping materials are chosen on an informed basis;
• guide the producers of packaging materials towards more sustainable choices;
• work actively on the development of recyclable and biodegradable materials with a low environmental impact;
• collaborate with research centres, for example via the Ph.D study grant made available to DICAM (Department of Civil, Chemical, Environmental and Materials Engineering) at the University of Bologna for work on “Polymeric materials for eco-sustainable packaging”.

More recently, to give greater impetus to the theme and direct the production chain to a growing environmental sustainability, IMA launched IMA NoP – No Plastic Program, a company-wide project to bring about a wider and more systematic introduction of eco-sustainable materials throughout the entire supply chain.
There are many projects at the development stage that involve IMA helping customers to develop sustainable wrapping solutions. These include:

  • the new CT11 machine for the packaging of tea and herbs in sachets, using biodegradable packaging materials of natural origin;
  • development of innovative “Parenteral Paper Packs” for use with the automated DYNAMICA cartoner.