26 February 2019
Michael Eppelmann

Industry 4.0 at our Biberach site

Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Industry 4.0: At Boehringer Ingelheim, these aspects of digitalization currently revolutionize the research and development of medication for humans and animals. Everybody who is passionate about this topics, crative and likes working across different departments, is ideal for joining our Biberach site in southern Germany. I talked with Nils Weskamp and Jan Kriegl from Research and Bernd Lehle from Biopharmaceutics about this topic.

Biberach is the biggest research and development site of Boehringer Ingelheim worldwide. Which role does digitalization play here?


Weskamp: In our research labs, we have been relying on digitalization and, where it made sense, on automatization for many years already. Now we can profit from these efforts. It is natural for our scientists to document experiments in electronic lab notebooks and to share their conclusions in central databases. All of our research colleagues – also at other sites and in other departments – can now access them just with a few clicks.

Lehle: Also in Biopharma we started early, introducing modern management and automatization concepts for instance by building a new production building – even though no one talked about digitalization back then. Today and in the near future it is essential to connect all the data with the still partly heterogeneous lab data and other sites, so that we can use all the digital methods available to add value.


How does a day at work in your departments look like?


Weskamp: In many areas we now have fully automatized lab equipment and robots. It’s amazing how many experiments we can conduct now in a really short period of time. The number of results has been increasing for many years now. At the same time, our colleagues don’t have to do a lot of routine work any more and can concentrate on more exciting tasks.

Kriegl: The whole field is very dynamic. Existing technologies are being advanced, and there is constantly new experimental technology, at first in initial pilot projects, then in a broader scope in case it’s rewarding. This demands a constant advancement of digital solutions and laboratory automization.

Lehle: Besides the Innovation Unit, the Biopharmaceutics department of Biberach now has a consistent digital strategy. In so doing, it is important to include all areas in the digital change, to incorporate creative ideas from all ideas and to also test them. It’s great to see that there are creative colleagues in all areas who are fully motivated with their task and contribute with new ideas. This includes everything what the buzzword “Industry 4.0” comprises: Augmented and Virtual Reality, the Internet of Things, Big Data, Process Mining, and so on. Therefore, we also need automization and logistics experts as well as computer scientists who can help with data analysis.


Which role does Artificial Intelligence (AI) play when it comes to digitalization?


Lehle: We have already used AI methods successfully in process development and optimization. These methods fit perfectly because biological processes are usually even more complicated than conventional chemical-pharmaceutical fabrication methods. With AI, it gets way easier to look for patterns and correlations among huge amounts of data – we can now test many more options and variants.

Weskamp: The number of experiments conducted by us has been increasing for many years now. Moreover, we see a steady growth of scientific articles. On the one hand this is positive, of course – today we know way more than in the past. On the other hand, this amount of data is a huge challenge for us as scientists. It becomes more and more complicated to keep pace and to not overlook something. We hope that AI methods will help us with this in the future. We can use the results of analyses like this to suggest concrete, unusual datapoints to our scientists


Which skills are you looking for among applicants in this area?


Weskamp: We are currently looking for AI experts, ideally PhD graduates in subjects like computer science, math, physics, chemistry or pharmacy. We expect some amount of expertise: Terms like “Random Forest”, “Neural Network” or “Naive Bayes” should be familiar. Moreover, we expect experience with coding languages like Python, R or SQL. Being interested in interdisciplinary collaboration is also key, though, just like the ability to explain and process the methods used in a way that also colleagues from other departments can use it.

Kriegl: We are also looking for experts in data management and IT development – furthermore a passion in solving problems with a creative mindset because we break new ground frequently.

Lehle: In Biopharma, we are currently looking for Data Science experts. Also for us being interested in interdisciplinary teamwork is important, moreover the will to work in specific use cases (like bio computer science).


Which benefits and training opportunities do we offer?


Weskamp: Boehringer Ingelheim is an attractive employer, especially for Young Professionals. This also includes various training opportunities. Specifically in a dynamic branch like digitalization and AI, it matters to stay tuned and up-to-date.

Lehle: We also offer attending scientific conferences, just like a close collaboration with different universities and research institutes. Besides the support of PhD candidates and post-docs, there can also be opportunities for research stays within Germany or abroad.


In conclusion the general question: Why shall I work for Boehringer Ingelheim and advance digitalization there?


Weskamp: There are several interesting subject-specific challenges, just like the opportunity to collaborate in an international and dynamic environment with experienced experts with very different backgrounds. On top of this, we offer to take part in developing new medication that will help patients all around the world.

Lehle: Biotechnology and digitalization are two of the most dynamic and innovative topics out there. The combination of both thus provides unlimited development opportunities.

"We are looking for experts with a passion in solving problems with a creative mindset because we break new ground frequently, says Dr. Jan Kriegl. "
Michael Eppelmann

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