Top Five Ways to Improve Visibility in Pharma Supply Chain and Level Up Performance

Published by Marvin Espino on

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Visibility helps improve performance in the supply chain. Not all companies, however, have these solutions integrated into the business process. In fact, more than half of the global pharma and logistics companies employ only partial visibility solutions. 

Ensuring visibility while maintaining desired temperatures across all points of the supply chain is a bit of a challenge. 

How can companies improve their visibility? How do they ensure that all data is accessible, so there will be less room for mistakes? Here’s how: 

1. Regularly Monitor IT Infrastructure and its Integration

IoT
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While temperature excursions happen frequently in any type of supply chain, it’s common in the pharma industry. 

What happens during a temperature excursion, or in other words, ruptures, is that products get exposed to temperatures too high or too low and they slowly lose their stability. Loss of product stability is simply loss of effectiveness. 

Let’s say an excursion occurred while in ocean freight. Something happened to the cooling systems. Worse, the thermometers were not working. Sensors could not send signals and alerts to the system back at the management office. 

What can happen? Those products will spoil, will be ineffective, and will be disposed of. The company will suffer huge financial losses, on top of a damaged reputation, disappointed end-users, and the list goes on. 

What if those thermometers had been working? Not only would they have read temperatures, but they would have also been sending data in real-time, back to the office. 

There could still be product waste, but there would be a lot less. Real time information gives the companies the power to either reroute shipping or lower the temperatures.

This positive version of the scenario can only happen when a company has established an efficient IT infrastructure.

An IT infrastructure is the totality of all information technology (IT) services of the company. This includes computers, software, cloud computing services, sensors, people behind these services, and much more. 

Imagine all these elements are well connected — integrated in a seamless pattern with minimal intervention and fewer problems. From the thermal sensors to the centralized software system, from the vehicle trackers to the warehouse sensors — everything is well-shared at all points of the supply chain. 

That’s what it means to have an efficient IT infrastructure that is one way of improving visibility. 

2. Examine and Arrive at Better Supplier Agreements and Better Quality Agreements

Pharma manufacturers may choose to outsource their logistics partners. It makes sense to do so because manufacturers can leave the transport process to the expert logistics companies. 

Logistics providers, sometimes called 3PLs, or third-party logistics, are outsource companies that can be adept in a certain temperature-specific supply chain. 

Some 3PLs are expert in the cold chain where the temperature maintained is between 2°C to 8°C (36°F to 46°F). Some are trained to handle controlled-room temperature (CRT) products (same temperatures with the cold chain but can go as high as 40°C (104°F) for a limited period). Temperature-specific supply chains have more types, as discussed in this article

Pharma manufacturers outsource not only logistics partners, but also suppliers of raw materials, packaging, containers, etc. What binds these networks together are supplier and quality agreements.

Imagine a substandard product delivered to the pharma companies, from say, markets in China. If it goes unnoticed, the product will blend in with other shipments in the process, and, because they are low quality, the entire batch is prone to failure. 

Another scenario is when the 3PL has no fleet management solutions, or the ability to track their vehicles. Throughout the supply chain, they have minimal data on whether there have been reroutings or delays. 

Things like these can disrupt what could have been a smooth supply chain. 

How can the process be improved? Simply lay out better quality agreements. Whether it be with package suppliers, or logistics partners, it pays to ensure that agreements are detailed, comprehensive, and impose responsibilities on its stakeholders. 

This can guarantee success. 

3. Monitor the Services of Suppliers and Providers

Supplier agreements
Image of business partners handshaking over business objects on workplace

As mentioned, suppliers themselves could be the source of the problems. Not the agreements. Not the contracts. The suppliers. They could be following everything and responsibilities could have been perfectly laid out, and so on, but if they actually offer substandard products and services, it could still drag down efficiency.

Pharma manufacturers should have a designated person, or a team, responsible for examining the quality of service providers. 

For instance, manufacturers should control and assess all outsourced activities and materials. They must ensure that they are doing the following:

  • Periodic scorecard assessments
  • Interim re-audits
  • Investigative reviews 
  • Supplier corrective action reports (SCARs)

When problems happen, a SCAR is a type of report that asks the suppliers for the root cause of the problem, a root-cause analysis. 

Experts recommend SCAR and other methods to level up services and products of suppliers and providers. 

4. Implement On-Site Audits of All Services and Products

Still, even a good evaluator can miss some aspects in need of improvements. The solution is to hire on-site auditors. 

Assume that the supply chain is up and running. The IT infrastructure is smooth and integrated. Both the suppliers and manufacturers are on good terms, but there seems to be a problem that neither the pharma manufacturers nor the providers and suppliers can figure out. 

This is where an on-site auditor comes in handy. Trained to spot errors in the process, an auditor can spot the weakest link that might be missed by other regulators. 

On-site auditors can specialize in assessing the cold chain, the controlled-temperature chain, and other types of temp-specific supply chains. These areas have different specific needs, and therefore require customized ways of assessment. 

Now imagine if there are effective auditors placed in all levels of the supply chain, from the manufacturing process, during transport, and within the suppliers — touching all points of the chain — then no problems will pass unnoticed.

5. Be Aware and Knowledgeable of Suppliers’ and Providers’ Territory

Territory
magnifying glass on a map – close-up

It is becoming clear that suppliers can be a breeding ground for future problems. Not all suppliers are made equal. Some are stellar, but others are just challenging, to say the least. 

It makes sense that companies should watch for problems within the supplier’s territory. In addition to manufacturing plants, geographical and environmental conditions and their political situations should also be examined. 

Some suppliers of secondary packaging are on the other side of the globe, particularly in Japan. A naturally environmentally stricken country such as Japan can impact company operations in case of environmental challenges. In case of earthquakes, packaging processes can be delayed, making it difficult to hit deadlines, that could be a potential blow to the company. 

Another challenging situation arises in India. Outsourced raw materials from India risks chances that some of the materials may be unstable due to very hot temperatures. A lot can happen as well during political turmoil, corruption, or just slow bureaucracy. 

All of these situations might be alleviated by the outsourced companies themselves when they have well-established visibility solutions. It will pay off in the long run if these factors are closely monitored. 

Conclusions

Visibility helps the pharma companies level up their performance in many areas. The ability to see everything in real-time can be a good indication of success.  

Well-placed and well-integrated IT infrastructures bring speed and efficiency. Having good quality agreements between manufacturers and third-party providers ensures the best performance for all involved parties. Hiring on-site auditors can assess loopholes across all levels of the supply chain. All of these methods will contribute to attracting better customers, better branding, and better performance. 


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