And there is a lot the industries can learn from each other, according to Roger Trew, European development advisor for the International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering.
"The pharmaceutical and food industries are increasingly finding themselves subject to many of the same pressures and issues affecting the way they manufacture their products," he said, adding that this is particularly apparent in their requirement for hygienic processing equipment.
Common processes such as aseptic filling, sanitisation, sterilisation, isolator technology, containment and cleaning in place (CIP) are coupled with tight regulations on validation and traceability - such as the 21 CFR Part 11 regulations on electronic process data recording in the US - that affect both industries, notes Trew.
The adoption of more sophisticated automation technologies in both sectors provides an opportunity for greater exchange of ideas and expertise. Recent research by the ARC Advisory Group points to the pharmaceutical and food sectors as being growth areas for automation technology, as companies seek to upgrade their systems to take advantage of modern control techniques.
The two sectors are expected to be the star performers at a time when the total automation market has been limping along at less than 1 per cent in 2000-2001. Overall, ARC expects this to improve to around 3.4 per cent a year through to 2006.
Automation is being driven by cost pressures on pharmaceutical manufacturers and packers, as generics gain further ground and the well-established trend towards global production and distribution continues. Automation systems can help by reducing manpower and human error and by making production and packaging operations faster and more flexible.
"Rather than spending time and money in developing new systems from scratch, does it not make good economic sense for companies in both sectors to share best practice ideas about the best ways in which this new technology can be employed to the greatest effect?" asks Trew.
This point is supported by Stuart Bryan, marketing manager of Hosokawa Micron, a supplier of processing equipment to both the pharmaceutical and food industries, including hygienic filling equipment.
"In our experience, the pharmaceutical industry is often two or three years ahead in terms of the technology and production techniques it employs," he said. "Having a cross-industry forum for the exchange of ideas would help aid the transfer of this technology between the two sectors. Equally, it could also help the pharmaceutical industry to find simpler ways of doing things."
The ISPE has started the ball rolling on collaboration by entering discussions with the European Hygienic Engineering & Design Group (EHEDG), the European body responsible for setting guidelines for processing equipment used by the food industry.
The aim is to bring together representatives from research and technology organisations, equipment manufacturers, client companies and governments from throughout the two sectors to discuss the common issues faced by the industries.