Magazine / Supply Chain & Warehouse Management Mar 15, 2022 11:15:00 AM

Pharmaceutical logistics and traceability: which are the best solutions

Traceability is a hot topic in the logistics industry, especially when it comes to pharmaceutical logistics.

Knowing the exact positioning of items and raw materials in the warehouse (internal traceability) and their path to the consumer (external traceability) is essential when it comes to health.

Products must be uniquely traced from origin to consumption along the supply chain. In this way, it is possible to follow their movements within the warehouses, easily identify failed batches or identify the users of a particular product, through automatic and optimized systems.

Manual identification, still in use at some logistics centers, is, in fact, impractical and prone to errors. For this reason, the best solutions for the traceability of pharmaceutical products move in the territory of automatic or semi-automated warehouses.


Why WMS is essential for pharmaceutical logistics 

When it comes to traceability, two different types of the path must be taken into account: 

  • Tracking: the ability to monitor the status of an order in real-time, from origin to final destination. It is the best-known traceability, the one that allows consumers to follow the shipping status of an order.   
  • Tracing: a check of the path of an article in reverse, from the final destination to the production site. Especially used by the authorities when, for example, it is necessary to trace the origins of a faulty batch or a contaminated product 

In both cases, product traceability is greatly facilitated by the use of a Warehouse Management System, a software that uniquely tracks each item, order and shipment, follows its path and allows you to process reports and analytics. 

The WMS, the warehouse management software, follows the products along the entire logistics chain and interfaces with the technologies that characterize industry 4.0, with production lines, machinery and couriers, thus ensuring ever greater reliability of operations. 

In this way, it is possible to develop an effective, efficient and digitized traceability system, easily controllable through the data processing carried out by the WMS itself.


The best solutions for the traceability of pharmaceutical products 

When we talk about pharmaceutical logistics, we are inevitably also talking about public health. 

A delicate sector such as the one that manages, handles and transports drugs, vaccines, plasma and chemicals, must comply with specific safety protocols that regulate its activities. 

Traceability in drug logistics was reformed by the Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/161, to put a stop to the increasingly pressing problem of counterfeiting and take into account the technological developments in the sector. 

Tracing products and raw materials, therefore, means guaranteeing their safety, respect for the cold chain, the ability to act promptly in the event of problems on specific orders. 

What are the best solutions for the traceability of pharmaceutical products? 

We can essentially identify three, used both in the context of internal and external traceability: 

  • QR-code and barcode: they constitute the most widespread identification system in the world. Products, lots and orders are identified through unique codes which, once read by specific terminals, transfer the information to the WMS, in real-time. This makes it easier and more error-free to keep track of them. 
  • RFID: Through Radio Frequency Identification, items, lots and orders are uniquely identified by an ID, through an intelligent label, which contains useful information. The data is transmitted via radio waves and is read by special scanners. 
  • Geolocation: the geolocation systems make it possible to indicate established paths for operators, coordinate the movement of the machines and keep track of the movements of the products, the timing and the authors of the movements.  

The automation aid is also connected to the geolocation systems. When the machines carry out the warehouse operations, it is not necessary to read the codes, it is the direct communication with the WMS system that guarantees traceability in itself. 

The technologies listed can be used alternatively or simultaneously and can guarantee to trace and track the products handled. However, the basis of truly effective traceability must be a shared coding system between all the players involved in the pharmaceutical logistics supply chain, which makes it possible to keep track of the movements of products and orders, uniquely identified, along the entire supply chain. 

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