IoT in the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain
A Spoonful of Connectivity Helps the Medicine Go Anywhere
What are the most important factors for asset tracking and logistics in the pharmaceutical industry?
Pharma is one of today’s most heavily scrutinized industries. New regulations are being created and enforced all the time, with heavy penalties and consequences for non-compliance. In addition, monitoring and tracking the cold chain for pharmaceuticals also has a real and measurable impact on safety, making it even more crucial that the processes in place are second-to-none. Stay tuned for the main challenges and solutions as we see them.
The need in pharmaceutical cold chain logistics
It would be tough to think of a more critical industry for monitoring and tracking than in the pharmaceutical cold chain. In the Pharma industry, As medicines move from A to B, regulations and safety procedures dictate that they need to be tightly monitored for temperature, humidity, impact and more.
Regulations or best-practices may demand a tight range for refrigerated cargo such as between 2-8 degrees, or even for non-refrigerated cargo, a mandate that medicines should always be stored below 25 degrees for example. In some cases, the cold chain might manage specific personalized medicines that need custom temperatures or standards. Fail to ensure these temperatures are met, and businesses will lose revenues, waste time, and even put end-users at risk.
Traditionally, tracking and logistics for cold chain pharmaceutical companies was manual and imprecise, with pallets checked at intervals along the journey from one location to another. However, today – the Internet of Things (IoT) has opened doors for logistics companies to offer real-time tracking of the cold chain from end-to-end. IoT devices in the form of asset trackers are placed on each individual shipment/pallet, and they don’t leave the shipment until it arrives at its destination.
In this way, the technology is supporting businesses in fulfilling a legal obligation by automatically monitoring temperature, humidity or unexpected changes such as a sudden impact or a move away from the expected route. Rather than be monitored sporadically, in an ideal situation this data is sent back to the cloud at a regular cadence, such as every 15 minutes.
However, they aren’t all created equally. Here are some of the issues that enterprises are facing:
- Lack of real-time data: If devices only check in once or twice a day, then information is out of date by the time it arrives.
- Damaged or unsafe goods: Gaps in visibility lead to medicines which need to be assumed unusable or unsafe.
- Inconsistent coverage: While connectivity might be strong at the pick up and drop off points, what about the many miles in-between?
- Poor security: From cyber attacks that leverage the IoT connectivity itself, to physical theft or tampering of devices en-route.
As you can see, connectivity is the essential gateway to the data, which is how businesses remain compliant. Without the right connectivity, the technology can’t ensure the company meets its legal obligations.
Connectivity must-haves in asset tracking for pharmaceuticals
Pharma has its own needs when it comes to connectivity, and therefore asset trackers for the cold chain have a tight checklist, especially when it comes to medicines. Top items on the list of must-haves include:
In Pharma, the end-product could vary from tablets or powders, to vaccines or even stem cells. Each of these shipments have their own needs in terms of temperature, humidity, and the amount of time they can be en-route to their destination before a risk to human safety occurs.
Some will travel by truck, while others will be sent by boat, plane, or helicopter, and increasingly – by drone. Connectivity needs to be flawless no matter where or how the cargo is being transported, and stakeholders need the flexibility to set rules, policies and alerts by the precise shipment that needs tracking and monitoring.
Since these devices are, by nature, low-power, you also want to make sure you can be flexible about the technology you’re using, benefiting from the latest IoT technology such as CAT-M and NB-IoT, keeping costs low and performance high.
To achieve “always-on” connectivity on the move, enterprises can’t rely on a single mobile operator, even if they have partnerships with other operators via roaming or other agreements. Cargo traveling by land, sea or air needs to be able to autonomously switch to a new operator without any gaps in availability, ensuring that the asset trackers are always working from local connectivity.
Using local connectivity on a global scale means that latency will remain low, (guaranteeing that there are no performance issues to deal with) but the IoT sensors will still work worldwide. Stakeholders can avoid roaming restrictions, and scale connectivity without impacting availability and coverage.
As the asset trackers used are generally battery operated, lengthening the battery life is essential, especially on the road with no easy connection to charging stations. Low latency, especially using narrowband technology extends the battery life as much as possible, meaning greater reliability and the peace of mind that trackers won’t die en-route.
Many medicines will need confirmation on temperature as often as every 5-15 minutes, providing real-time data into the status of goods. If, when devices collect data, it isn’t reliable, it can cause immediate and irreversible damage to a shipment. In the best case scenario this will result in a loss of money and resources. While in a worst-case scenario, this could cause regulatory action, and even harm to patients if the medication is unsafe to use. Temperature alerts need to arrive in a timely fashion to the right stakeholders, so that users can make quick decisions, such as asking a driver to turn down refrigeration units en-route, or scheduling an additional stop so that cargo can be moved to medical refrigerators where necessary.
Security and control
Having real-time visibility into network events is also critical, allowing your enterprise to gain better insight into what’s happening to shipments on the road, and start on the process of data analytics. For example, if devices go offline, this could be a sign of damage or theft, providing simple asset protection capabilities and quick response. It will also help you troubleshoot potential problems before they become major issues.
At floLIVE, we have a 3-point security plan which can be customized in a highly specific way. First, we ensure data can only be received from specific ports. Second, we transmit the data using a custom tunnel set via a VPN. Finally, this data can be configured so that it ends up at custom APNs.
Best-practice cold chain connectivity – hot off the presses
Today’s Pharma companies have a growing volume of regulations to stay on top of, and IoT in pharma is supporting this need. To avoid risk, they must ensure medicines and other critical cargo are transported and managed both securely and compliantly. That means asset trackers specifically made for niche logistics use cases, with next-gen connectivity solutions that go the extra mile.
From flexibility and security, to visibility and complete coverage – speak to us about revamping your cold chain monitoring and asset tracking, and to see a demo of the floLIVE platform.