While pharma supply chains have become more robust, complex and diverse, many remain underequipped to cope with today’s fast-evolving marketplace, particularly in light of COVID-19.
Indeed the demand for medicines is growing at a rapid rate – far outstripping supply – and for many pharma companies today, the focus is speed of delivery. Speed of delivery has become the most critical factor and is in the pharma sector, often the difference between life and death.
Technology does, of course, play a pivotal role in this process. AI and machine learning, for example, help to transform and streamline pharma supply chains – giving key teams visibility of the entire process from production to delivery. It also helps to automate critical functions, enabling workers to redirect their focus elsewhere and provide added value.
Technologies like radio-frequency identification (RFID) and stock monitoring systems are also delivering the much-needed end-to-end visibility of supply chains, enabling manufacturers and fulfilment warehouses to accurately forecast and meet needs.
At a time like this – a time where speed and consistency are the most important variables – communication and the ability to speak, in real time, to people up and down the supply chain is invaluable.
Which is why in this blog, we’re going to be discussing the challenges pharma companies face, as well as how two-way radio communication solutions can enable teams to respond to fast-changing demands in the current COVID-19 climate and the future.
What challenges are pharmaceutical companies facing?
- Speed of delivery
Hospitals and pharmacies need drugs and medicines as quickly as possible, but a single mistake in the supply chain process – anything from the incorrect quantity of medicine to the wrong address – can delay fulfilment and cost pharma companies millions.
And to make matters worse, the supply chain is incredibly complex. Typically, much of the process is outsourced to R&D partners, suppliers, logistics providers and contract manufacturing organisations (CMOs) to develop, test, produce, ship and distribute products. However, the problem is that all of these different business units will have their own methods of communication, so if something goes wrong at any stage communicating quickly and efficiently will be a challenge.
- Response time
Given the pace of evolution throughout the industry, another requirement is that pharma companies need to respond quickly to changes – whether these changes are a result of demand, supply or a possible pandemic. COVID-19, for example, has put a tremendous amount of strain on pharma companies – and many are working together, globally, to roll out treatments for the virus as quickly as possible.
As such, the ability to rapidly communicate across the supply chain and optimise the allocation of labour becomes ever important. Tools designed to facilitate real-time communication are no longer nice-to-haves but essential; they enable teams to keep in touch, share updates, and respond to problems as and when they occur.
- End-to-end visibility
What about once shipments have left the warehouse? What communication mechanisms are in place then to ensure the products reach their destination?
Theft in transit is a well-known problem in the pharma space – but the true extent of this is unknown due to insufficient data. According to an estimate by FreightWatch, 11.6bn Euros of pharmaceutical cargo is stolen each year. This estimate is based on data from law enforcement agencies across the continent.
With this in mind, up-to-date information on where goods are in the supply chain must be a key consideration in the selection of any communication system (GPS tracking and real-time communication being necessary features). This will help to provide peace of mind and ensure issues can be pinpointed and corrected (where possible).
RFID is also an essential component here; when used in conjunction with real-time communication tools, GPS and site monitoring, the accuracy of real-time tracking is increased significantly, allowing supervisors to access up-to-the-minute information on goods.
Using two-way radio communication to improve the supply chain
Given the complex nature of pharmaceutical supply chains, and regimented delivery schedules, the ability to respond to problems in real-time is essential. Traditional communication solutions – mobile phones and laptops, for example – lack the capability, versatility and coverage required. They’re slow, dependent on signal, can only support one-to-one conversations and can’t seamlessly integrate into existing communications infrastructure.
Two-way radios, on the other hand, provide uninterrupted real-time communication over large distances – locally, regionally or even internationally with the right repeater configuration. Here’s what they can provide.
- Real-time communication
With real-time two-way radio communication, any problems throughout the supply chain can be reported to the relevant teams, saving time and maintaining productivity. For example, if a specific medicine hasn’t been replenished in the warehouse, the picking team can inform the site supervisor – directly and without delay – who can then speak with the supplier to resolve the problem. No need to spend thirty minutes to an hour working out where stock is. Also, the supervisor can then liaise with another warehouse to fulfil the order, minimising service disruption.
- Seamless integration
Two-way radio communication systems are easy to implement and use alongside existing communications infrastructure. Using Radio over IP, for example, pharma companies can build a hybrid communications network – one which allows computer users to communicate with radio users. This helps to reduce the cost of buying brand-new infrastructure and can act as an interim solution.
- Paging and dispatch
Using paging and dispatch functionality, the moment an order is made the picking information can be automatically sent to someone in the warehouse for picking. This method of job allocation saves a considerable amount of time and also improves traceability – as there’s a full audit trail of the communication.
Pharma companies can also use TRBOnet, for example, to utilise voice dispatch and job forwarding – making it even easier to allocate tasks.
To improve supply chain visibility, pharma companies can also utilise the internal and external tracking capabilities provided by two-way radios. Most two-way radios come equipped with GPS tracking – but this can be extended using Bluetooth beacons located around a building to provide accurate, site-wide tracking.
How can Kestrel Communications help?
As pharma supply chains become more complex and demand grows, the ability to deliver medicines quickly and efficiently revolves around the right processes, technology and communication tools.
As a specialist in the sale, service and rent of two-way radio communication solutions, we can help you to find an option suitable for your pharma operation – whether you need an on-site network or a nationwide solution.
If you require something bespoke that integrates with your existing infrastructure, we can also help and provide advice.
If you want to find out more, please take a look at our products and services here.