Delicate and crucial, the pharmaceutical logistics field is experiencing a period of great expansion, which means the evolution of regulations and digitalization.
The numbers are clear: in 2020 the global market amounted to 73.3 billion dollars and, between 2021 and 2028 a compound annual growth rate is estimated. 8.5%, according to the Pharmaceutical Logistics Market report by Grand View Research Inc.
The growth of the sector has been strengthened by the pandemic, by the extraordinary production of anti-covid vaccines, by the spread of home delivery and by the need to optimize logistics centers, in order to guarantee rapid supplies and the perfect conservation of products and raw materials. This growth is paving the way for technology.
In fact, in recent years we have been witnessing a real digital transformation of pharmaceutical logistics and the automation of processes previously managed manually.
What technologies does a pharmaceutical warehouse need?
Technologies at the service of health must first of all deal with extremely strict laws and protocols, with the obligation to respect the cold chain, timely management of personnel authorizations and product tracking.
However, despite the rigidity of pharmaceutical logistics, the modernization process of the sector is well underway and now makes use of always new technologies, updated and able, moreover, to guarantee total compliance with those protocols, which in case of manual work are inevitably subject to error.
But what are the main unmissable technological solutions for a pharmaceutical warehouse and how do they work?
The 5 most popular technologies, which are strongly contributing to the digital transformation of drug logistics, are:
- Terminals for barcode and QRcode reading
- Pick to light
- Warehouse Management System
Terminals for barcode and QRcode reading
QRcode and barcode have two fundamental characteristics in common: they are unique and universal. By identifying the lots in stock with a code of this type, in fact, we ensure that wherever they are, they can be easily identified and traced.
This way, the possibility of losing, confusing or losing sight of the different products is greatly reduced.
To read the codes, special terminals are used, which have access to the warehouse database, where they transfer data and information in real-time. The latter will then be stored by the WMS and made available for checks, tracking or reports.
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) allows you to insert an intelligent label on items and, in this way, uniquely identify them through specific IDs. The label can be both read and written so it allows you to add useful information.
As in the case of barcodes and QR codes, the use of this technology aims to facilitate the tracking of goods in the warehouse as much as possible and reduce human errors.
Pick to light
Pick to light is a technology capable of guiding warehouse operators through the use of light signals. In this way, picking and fanning can be done hands-free.
A luminous device and a display, placed on the picking locations, inform the operator about quantities and withdrawals, but also about the subsequent operations assigned to him.
Inside a pharmaceutical warehouse, it is essential not only to know where the products are but also where they can and cannot go. Through geolocation systems, in fact, it is possible to keep track of locations and automatic movements, but also to guide operators, such as forklift drivers, along with approved and pre-established routes.
Pharmaceutical logistics cannot afford not to know where each individual item is and for how long since incorrect handling or wrong timing could greatly compromise the integrity of the products and constitute a flaw in the warehouse security system.
Warehouse Management System
Last, but certainly not least, the Warehouse Management System, the software for managing warehouses, is essential not only for optimizing operations but also for their correct execution.
The technologies listed so far, in fact, despite bringing added value to drug logistics, allowing activities to be carried out and respecting protocols in a simpler, faster and safer way, are not indispensable. They are strongly recommended, but their absence does not affect the functioning of the warehouse. In the case of the WMS, on the other hand, yes.
A warehouse that handles delicate materials such as drugs, plasma, vaccines, chemicals cannot be based on purely manual activities. We need a "brain" that collects and relates information and allows you to better manage manual, automated activities, protocols and unforeseen events.
The WMS, in fact, in addition to organizing, coordinating and controlling logistic processes, is connected to the factory control systems and IoT, which manage the cold rooms, and to the measurement systems, which allow the right quantities of product to be taken or aliquoted with a precision impossible for human beings.
In both cases, the operations, although not managed directly by the WMS, are tracked by it and in the event of malfunctions or errors, an alert will notify the operator of the need to intervene.
Digital Transformation: why it’s so crucial in drug logistics
The technologies listed, although they are also in use in other types of warehouses, respond to the typical needs of a delicate field such as that of pharmaceutical logistics. Knowing the needs of the sector, in fact, allows to identify the most useful technologies and tools and facilitates, justifying it, the digital transformation.
In this case, the needs that can be met through the technological innovation of the pharmaceutical warehouse are:
- Uniqueness of items and lots.
- Measurement accuracy (weight and quantity calculation).
- Compliance with safety protocols related to the movement of delicate, dangerous substances or substances which, by law, can only be handled by authorized personnel.
- Maintenance and monitoring of the cold chain.
- Connection to factory and IoT systems for monitoring the logistics center and managing any "crises".
The great expansion of the sector and the need to have ever-greater control over products on which people's health depends favor the digitization of the supply chain and the specialization of personnel.
Also in the choice of supplier/partner domain competence becomes decisive: knowing the needs of the sector allows to recommend and implement the best, most functional and advantageous technological solutions, but also to foresee future needs and thus set the parameters suitable for manage any moments of crisis.