Pharma Supply Chain Digital Twin

Published by Nick Barrowclough on

Digital Twin

The Digital Twins market is estimated to grow from $3.8 billion in 2019 to $35.8 in 2025 as per a recent report. But what is a Digital Twin and how can you implement it in your Pharma supply chain?

What is a Digital Twin?

A Digital Twin is a virtualization of a physical object. Through collection and storage of data on the physical entity it can be recreated in a virtual form. For example, if you have an object, and you crated a 3D image of the object, and a table of parameters about it such as it’s creation date, shipping date, delivery date, it’s weight, materials it was made from, where those materials were sourced and so on, you would be creating a Digital Twin. This data enables you to make better decisions and have complete traceability of the product.

How does a Pharma Supply Chain Digital Twin work?

Implementing a Digital Twin in your supply chain can alter the way you manage every aspect of your product delivery. It can give you a feeling of being there with your shipment, even when you physically can not be. The data gathered in real-time gives you the ability to make decisions based on predictive data and insights, rather than reactive measures. This makes for a smoother supply chain, less chance of things going wrong and cost savings.

When you have connectivity at every point in the supply chain, there is the danger of accumulating an overwhelming quantity of data. It is important to have a system in place that can efficiently handle the date and make sure you can leverage the information is a useful way.

Supply chains are already connected, you will have a tracking number from your 3PL (third party logistics) that enables you to know the status and location of your shipment. Although the location data is simply that it has arrived at this point, or it has departed this location, it’s not realtime GPS tracking.

image courtoise of Dmitry Ivanonv

Pharma supply chain however requires something more than this primitive level of tracking. To create a Digital Twin of your pharmaceutical products other sensor data must be incorporated and integrated to your software system.

A properly planned and implemented system will give you continuous interaction with carriers, shippers and warehouses to give useful data for each of the parties involved.

For Pharmaceutical Companies – Historic and predictive analysis of data to inform better decision making. Understand at a deeper level your whole process from production to delivery. Optimize your supply chain and make quick decisions when things go wrong based on realtime data.

For 3PLs – Higher fulfillment rates and improved customer satisfaction. Provide end to end visibility to your clients and provide them peace of mind that the shipment is being taken care of. Go beyond simple tracking of the package in your system, give the shipper a feeling of personal connection with their shipment, knowing where it is, how it’s been handled, that temperature excursions have not occurred. In addition the data can be used internally to identify areas where delivery can be improved. Ensure that cargo is handled and treated correctly throughout your delivery network.

When properly implemented a supply chain management system that is combined with Digital Twin modeling will improve and revolutionize the way your operations are planned and managed.

Sounds great, But sounds complicated!

To achieve a Digital Twin that mirrors the real world product as if you were actually there may sound like a huge (and expensive!) task. However, it’s not as complex as you might think. Just remember the 3 R’s,

  • Reliable Data
  • Real-time
  • Relevant

Reliable Data – It is essential that he data you collect is real, meaning accurate and reliable. There are a multitude of resources that can already be tapped into. Airline schedules, ocean cargo vessel locations and near real-time GPS truck location data. The important thing at this stage is to ensure that whatever data you are finding is reliable, accurate data that you can bet on.

Rea-time Data – The ability to get data in real-time is essential for rapid decision making. Getting realtime data depends completely on connectivity. If you are playing monitoring and tracking devices on your cargo they must have the capabilities needed to be connected in every country they may transit through en-route. The device should be able to switch between different connectivity options automatically depending on what is available. Battery life is also a consideration, how long will the shipment take to reach its destination, and can your batteries last that long?

Relevant Data – What is it you need to, or want to know about your physical product? Is the data you are collecting useful for you? There is no point in bloating your system with irrelevant data, it should be useful and actionable data that helps you make good decisions about your product during it’s transit through the supply chain.

Aircraft logistics digital twin

Can a Digital Twin make decisions automatically?

So now you have your Digital Twin, the data is Reliable, Real-time and Relevant. What is next? You need to be able to consolidate this data, analyze it and make decisions. Once decisions are made action needs to be taken.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) – the advent of AI and cloud based computing power has made the analysis and decision making process easier to automate. Although a human element we believe should still be involved, AI can assist in sifting through the large amount of data and highlighting what should be looked into by a human operator. In theory, yes you can setup the system so that the AI will perform analysis, make a decision and take action on this data, but with something as precious as pharmaceutical products you might want to still involve the human element.

Human Element – Imagine the situation. Your product is airside waiting for loading onto an aircraft. It’s been taken out of its temperature controlled storage at the airport. There is a delay, and your cargo is under the hot African sun. Your Digital Twin data has been analyzed and flagged as a concern, the temperature is rising in your shipment. Your system alerts who?? At some point a human is involved. Do you trust that it sends a message to the cargo company and they take action immediately? Is the message properly coordinated through to the airside cargo handlers?

In short, you still need to rely on the human element at some point. The Digital Twin provides you with the tools to inform the right people at the right time. It’s up to them to take the necessary action.

In Summary

In short, here’s what you must do in order to set up the supply chain digital twin:

  • Recreate your physical asset, process, or system.
  • Get your sensor game right.
  • Ensure that your physical object can communicate seamlessly.
  • Make sure you’re plugging in real-time data from the physical version of your asset to the virtual model.
  • Implement what you can to automate process management and exception handling using AI + RPA.
  • Plug the gaps that automation can’t with Human intelligence.


Creating a Digital Twin of your supply chain can bring many benefits to the manufacturer and the logistics companies. For the system to function effectively you must consider :-

  • Recreating your physical asset, process, or system.
  • Deployment of the correct sensors.
  • Ensure seamless and reliable communications.
  • Ensure data being plugged into the system is real-time.
  • Implement AI for automated analysis and alerting.
  • Take action with human decision makers.


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