Innovative technologies improve pharmaceutical logistics

New technologies such as passive RFID (tagging via radio frequency identification chips), active trackers (transmitting real time data via mobile data networks) and Internet of Things (IoT) will improve the transport of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products.

Pharmaceutical companies seek new ways to ensure their temperature-sensitive products are shipped properly across the entire supply chain. They are turning to new monitoring and tracking technologies to enhance the end-to-end visibility.

'Given the numerous stakeholders and the variable components of the pharmaceutical logistics process, there is a need for accurate temperature monitoring of pharma products, throughout the supply chain', says Renate de Walle, Director of Pharmaceutical Logistics at Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo. De Walle adds that, 'Previously this required manual information entry, making the process inefficient and error-sensitive. An industry-wide phenomenon. This demanded solutions, and various technologies were implemented. The lower costs of the monitoring and transmission technologies, together with the ubiquity of worldwide mobile networks and the added value of these solutions for companies as well as the supply chain, make them more compelling.'

Passive RFID tags: accurate, fast and insightful

Cargo containing passive RFID tags can be checked instantaneously and more accurately. This speeds up the process and allows cargo to move more efficiently and economically, while enabling stakeholders to gain insight into the journey. Despite the significant improvement that passive RFID tags provide, they do have their limitations. Passive RFID tags contain no internal power source, but are powered by the electromagnetic energy transmitted from an RFID reader device. At the same time, this limitation offers a major benefit: their simplicity allows them to be inexpensive.

Active tracking: continuous, real time cargo tracking

Active tracking offers a high degree of transparency into the overall air cargo supply chain process. Something that wasn’t available before. Active tracking systems provide real-time information related to temperature or other important cargo handling requirements. The information includes when and where issues occur, allowing stakeholders to focus on correcting issues rather than discussing them. Active trackers contain a battery, enabling them to continuously broadcast a signal, real time. While active tags deliver a greater transmission range than passive tags, they do cost more. Still many in the pharma and cargo industry appreciate their benefit. In 2014 there were 1.8 million active trackers deployed in the cargo industry worldwide. This number is expected to climb to 5.8 million by 2019, according to Berg Insight, a Swedish M2M (Machine-to-Machine)/IoT market research firm.

New opportunities by linking IoT applications

By linking technological innovations - such as cloud computing, GPS and RFID tags - with temperature monitors and other types of sensors, conditions of a shipment can easily be verified. They can also securely track the location in real time, anywhere in the world. As the amount of IoT applications and their capabilities increase, new opportunities for the cargo transportation industry become attainable. The unprecedented visibility into nearly every aspect of the process enables businesses to use their data to reduce costs. It also ensures that temperature-sensitive products are packaged and transported in a temperature controlled way.

The need for improvement during air transportation

A 2014 study by the IATA showed that 57% of cargo temperature deviations occur during air transportation. That is more than double the amount that occurs during manufacturing and shipping to the airport of origin (23%) and from forwarding from the destination airport to distributors and consignees (20%). This demonstrates the need for greater temperature monitoring and accuracy to prevent damage, loss of purity, potency or stability of the products.

The industry advances by working together

'We come from a world where transport and airlines offered tracking assistance based on previously existing techniques. By using new technologies and cooperating with stakeholders, we provide more accurate information in real time. This enables us to deliver better service to customers. The more the industry uses these new technologies, the more we get an accurate picture of what's working and what we can do to make things better. That's why we see a growing support, adoption as well as use of these new solutions', explains Irwin Budding, Programme Manager for Connectivity at Air France-KLM-Martinair Cargo.