FOCUS: GCC pharmaceutical logistics

The pharmaceutical logistics sector is the most highly-regulated of most logistics operations, with stricter rules and more data-heavy tracking requirements, so we spoke to several leaders in the field to find out what the future holds for pharma logistics in the Middle East.
Pharmaceutical, Logistics, Uae, Gcc

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The transportation of cold chain pharmaceuticals will total US $12.6 billion in 2018, continuing an annual 8–9% growth rate that is roughly double that of pharma products overall, according to the 2018 edition of the Biopharma Cold Chain Sourcebook.

According to researcher Nicholas Basta, this growth is also being fed by a growing trend for shipping ambient-temperature products in a monitored, controlled manner, which is a departure from past practices.

“Recent Good Distribution Practice (GDP) guidelines, to which the industry is gradually adopting, require control of even room-temperature product, which is essentially everything that is not refrigerated or frozen. With each passing year, the oversight of pharmaceutical and biologics shipping is getting tighter,” he says.

Agility has adopted similar principles for its pharma logistics operation. The 3PL has responded to the growing demand for pharma products in the region, led by the introduction of mandatory health insurance in the UAE and a focus by the government on local production, by creating a more responsive, visible supply chain that achieves rapid pick-ups.

Albert Asool, CEO, Agility Dubai.

“Staff members receive special training to process documentation and handle pharmaceuticals. Alarms trigger the need for corrective action en-route if temperatures fluctuate out of range,” explains Albert Asool, CEO, Agility Dubai. “The amount of time life science products spend in transit is reduced with Agility’s customized software for handheld devices, route optimization module, real-time dispatch and live updates. Together, these solutions provide detailed visibility for each step.”

Nishithbhai Salla, sales manager at logistics technology solution provider, EPS, would like to see more logistics companies involved in pharma logistics do the same. “There is need for more awareness and employee knowledge enhancement in the industry about compliance with regulations,” says Salla. “We see warehousing activities are still better compared to transport activities - for example, maintaining the right temperature throughout supply chain process is still a challenge here. More service providers should rely on better technology tools to enhance service levels and standout from their competition.”

Alain Kaddoum, general manager, Swisslog Middle East.

Alain Kaddoum, general manager, Swisslog Middle East, says this is growing evermore important given the changing nature of the pharmaceuticals sector. “The pharmaceutical industry’s logistic processes are under ever-increasing pressure. With product diversification, smaller order quantities, shorter product cycles, serialisation, greater individualisation and more patient-centric approaches, pharmaceutical logistics must ensure that the trends and challenges facing the business are addressed,” he says.

According to Kaddoum, it’s no longer sufficient to track product batches; individual products need tracking and reporting as well. “This leads to increased pressure on factory logistics; storing more SKUs in smaller quantities; and more frequent movements to many different destinations,” he says. Warehouses also need additional areas for temperature and quality control – all in the same or even less space than before. “Delivering the right materials, in the right quantities to the right location on the production line at precisely the right time is essential to ensure a controlled and efficient production process,” he says.

Where retailers and e-commerce companies, in particular, have adopted warehouse automation to achieve the speed and efficiency they need to be competitive, the focus in pharma has instead been on risk mitigation. Forward-thinking manufacturers are taking steps to address these challenges today by evaluating the processes, software and machinery in the supply chain in light of serialisation requirements.

“One of the key areas of focus is the warehouse management software (WMS),” says Kaddoum. “WMS must be able to support aggregation of salable product serial numbers across cartons and palettes so that every unit can be tracked to a specific carton and pallet. That’s generally not too complicated—until you start moving cartons between pallets or products between cartons.”

In this case, the operator must have the ability to easily update the serial numbers on both the pallet or carton from which product was moved and the pallet or carton to which it was moved. “Virtualization is emerging as a key technology that creates a host of new opportunities to improve how warehouses are operated and maintained,” he adds. “Within the warehouse management software (WMS), sensor data from processes and equipment is merged with virtual warehouse models and simulations to create a digital copy or shadow of the warehouse.”

According to Kaddoum, virtualisation is already enabling functions such as real-time condition monitoring and material flow monitoring, and much more is possible. “Solutions where this data is used to see into the future by combining real-time data with simulated changes to material flows are not too far away,” he says.

Kushal Nahata, co-founder and CEO of FarEye.

FarEye, another tech solutions company, is thinking even farther ahead of the curve. “The biggest challenge in pharma logistics lies in giving multi-modal visibility across the movement of shipments, connecting multi-party visibility for all transit times,” says Kushal Nahata, co-founder and CEO of FarEye.

“Without real-time visibility into operations, it can be difficult to track products in the warehouse and fully utilise operators and transport equipment. There is a need for a programming language to enable enterprises to reduce time to build new logistics delivery products from months to weeks, including testing and scaling.”

According to Albert Asool, CEO, Agility Dubai, these issues, once fully established within pharma logistics, will be migrated to other sectors, particularly F&B and FMCG. “Agility offers visibility to the customers throughout the supply chain process and has got the state of art safety and monitoring systems in place,” he says. “On one hand, our qualified teams are well adept to the documentation and handling of sensitive and critical pharmaceuticals and on the other, our systems provide us information on any outlier or discrepancy on the temperature fluctuations.”

“If there is something that logistics for the healthcare sector can teach logistics players in other sectors, they are the importance of effective tracking, the training and development for all staff involved in the supply chain, and the exercise of due diligence at all stages of storage and delivery,” he adds.

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