The pharmaceutical sector is one of the world’s most powerful industries, as it’s the source of life-changing drugs, innovative vaccines and other treatments that save lives. In recent times, much attention has been paid to the quality of the supply chain that pharma companies rely on to deliver their products.
Because the ingredients and instruments used by the industry are often sensitive to temperature changes, pharma cold chain monitoring is one of the key technological innovations that help deliver drugs and medicines in optimal states. However, the degree of technological innovation in the supply chain goes far beyond simple temperature measurements.
Technology is now present in granular portions of the supply chain, and it is safe to say that the industry cannot function without these solutions. Here are types of tech that underpin today’s pharma cold chain.
IoT for industrial applications was among the first innovations to hit the supply chain. Lean manufacturing originally demanded real-time visibility into manufacturing line statuses. Sensors attached to manufacturing tools and components soon emerged, and the insights they provided allowed firms to minimize raw material inventory.
These days, IoT has spread to every corner of the supply chain, especially for pharmaceuticals. Most notably, IoT sensors are embedded in shipments, thus making tracking the condition of goods simple. Everything from temperature to shock is tracked and transmitted to supply chain stakeholders.
In addition, alerts tied to condition thresholds ensure that goods are never in any danger of being damaged. If a shipment approaches or exceeds its thresholds, teams can communicate with the shipper and rectify the problem. Monitoring to this extent also simplifies the task of determining insurance liability, something that is necessary for a notoriously low-margin industry.
Smart data logger tags are another example of growing IoT applications in the pharma cold chain. These tags are inexpensive compared to traditional RFID solutions and don’t need proprietary infrastructure to work. Best of all, they work in all conditions, whereas RFID is severely limited in this regard.
IoT is boosting the visibility that pharma stakeholders have in their supply chains. Thus, data is democratized, ensuring positive ROI for everyone involved.
The cloud helps pharma companies understand their supply chain data better. Thanks to outsourcing their technical infrastructure needs to experts, pharma companies can scale as the data they collect grows without experiencing a service disruption. Best of all, they’re free to focus on their business, without having to allocate resources to support infrastructure that’s outside of their core competencies.
Cloud tech is also the most secure form of infrastructure currently available. A big reason for this is cloud service providers are built from the ground up with security and technical flexibility as priorities. Pharma companies are leveraging these abilities cost-effectively, to create robust processes.
For instance, pharma manufacturers can host data on cloud servers and instantly access insight by running complex analytics on their data sets. Granting and accessing external data is also simple with the cloud, since all one needs is an API that connects multiple systems. Compared to legacy infrastructure, building a seamless platform of interconnected systems is simple.
As technology improves, the use of artificial intelligence in analytics is rising. AI-powered platforms now predict demand and pinpoint inefficiencies in the supply chain instantly. They also track trends in consumer behavior, vendor performance, and geopolitical developments. These factors are especially significant when designing drug shipment delivery routes.
The shortest distance between two points is not always the fastest route in logistics. Changing regulations and a lack of cold chain infrastructure at certain points along the route might make a delivery plan unfeasible. AI is helping pharma logistics experts to design optimal routes that take everything from weather to en-route infrastructure into account.
No discussion of technology these days is complete without talking about blockchain and the impact it has on the supply chain. Consumers remain largely unaware of the waves blockchain is making, because it is a back-end presence. However, stakeholders in the pharma supply chain are increasingly aware of its potential impact.
For starters, blockchain usage has reduced security costs. Thanks to blockchain networks being virtually unhackable, the cost of ensuring data security has decreased. Furthermore, data integrity is boosted thanks to every record on the chain being immutable.
While cloud tech is highly advantageous, it is currently being used to host centralized systems with few access points. Sharing data is complex, since changes to one source take a while to reflect throughout every instance of the database. Blockchain solves this problem by offering a single source of truth at all times.
Automation is also becoming smarter thanks to the use of smart contracts. These lines of code automatically execute once conditions are met, thus reducing life cycle times and increasing efficiency. They’re also reducing costs of business since less manual intervention is needed.
Aside from these benefits, ancillary advantages such as faster supplier onboarding and greater resilience mean blockchain use in pharma supply chains is increasing by the day.
Novel tech for a challenging sector
The pharma sector presents many supply chain challenges. The three solutions highlighted in this article represent advances that are boosting the pharma supply chain. Undoubtedly, the future will witness further technical innovation that ensures the safety of the products we consume.