Sensor Based Logistics Technology Assures Vaccine’s Cold Chain Management

Sensing technologies, paired with web-based tools keep tabs on pharmaceutical shipments every step of the way.

By Chris Swearingen, marketing manager, FedEx

In the hours after an F5 tornado devastated the town of Moore, Oklahoma, the need for medical aid was immediate. Some victims were suddenly left without essential daily medications, and others were at increased risk for injury or illness due to piles of wreckage and makeshift living conditions.

The process of getting the essential antibiotics, vaccines, and other medical aid into Moore proved that when it comes to pharmaceutical shipping, knowledge is power.

Rapid Response
Direct Relief, a non-profit organization that provides medical assistance in times of need, quickly assembled DTaP (Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccination kits, as well as other medical supplies, for the Moore victims. 

Because the vaccines needed to be maintained in a narrow cold temperature range in order to arrive ready for use, visibility throughout the journey was essential. 

Direct Relief used a FedEx solution called SenseAware to monitor the temperature status of the material throughout its journey using advanced sensor based logistic (SBL) technology. The vaccines arrived on-time and on-temperature, within 24-hours of the deadly tornado.

The Power of SBL
From origin to destination, pharmaceutical shipments face a unique set of shipping challenges. SBL technology is poised to become a critical link in the life science supply chain, innovating to provide shippers with imperative location, security and temperature data in near real-time.

Through a combination of software (web-based management systems) and hardware (a device placed inside of the package) SBL uses sophisticated sensors to transmit vital information about a package while en route: temperature, exposure to light, humidity, barometric pressure and near real-time location information.  

Customizable triggers and alerts can be preset before travel and changed while in transit. The information can then be shared with multiple partners, enabling them to collaborate and adapt to unexpected situations. SBL systems can also be paired with intervention services that can re-ice cold chain shipments, repackage and inspect damaged goods, or engage law enforcement to pursue stolen shipments.

The actionable data provided by an SBL system can also lead to long-term improvements in the supply chain, correcting issues that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. By detecting operational weaknesses, shippers can make evidence-based cases for changes in their supply chains, while also ultimately increasing customer satisfaction. 

According to CSC’s recent  Global Survey of Supply Chain Progress, the three-year average of the supply chain’s contribution to revenue jumped from 4 %to 8.5 % in the last year, with many leaders seeing contributions over 10%.

Addressing the Unique Needs of Pharma
Pharmaceutical shipments face their own set of unique concerns, and SBL is a technology that can be customized to address what most ails the industry.

Location: When it comes to monitoring the location of a package, the GPS technology used by SBL allows shippers to create customized, location-based alerts. For example, when a package is within five miles of its delivery destination or any other locations specified by the customer, the customer can receive an email alert. This push-based model of information tracking keeps SBL shippers in control, and allows them to provide their clients with the information they require. This can also help eliminate paying for unused labor waiting for shipments to arrive. And, in the rare event that a shipment is misrouted or otherwise goes off course, it can be located as long as the device is still in the shipment. By sharing near real-time data, key parties can swiftly reach decisions regarding intervention or remediation. 

Security:  SBL can provide peace of mind to shippers, whether a package is en route or being stored in a warehouse. Customers can set alerts to notify them when a shipment is off-route or has left a designated area (FedEx calls this a geofence).  Used in conjunction with location alerts, light monitoring can be a useful security tool. Customers can request to be notified when the sensor detects light, and in the rare instance that security is breeched, near real-time alerts enable the team to quickly decide the appropriate course of action. 

Temperature: Whether a package needs to remain cold, warm or just consistent, SBL sensors can keep temperature data current throughout a shipment’s journey, and send an alert if something is wrong. Recently, FedEx introduced a dry ice probe that pairs with its device to monitor dry ice shipments that must be kept within a specific temperature range. The dry ice probe expands the capability of the SenseAware 2000 device by allowing customers to monitor dry ice shipments within the-80°C to +60°C temperature range. The external probe connects to the multi-sensor device, and data, including the probe’s temperature reading, is then sent in near real-time to the FedEx solution’s application for monitoring and analysis. 

More Information, More Control
Advanced SBL features available through technologies similar to what FedEx’s solution offer not only provide pharmaceutical manufacturers and shippers with enhanced visibility and insight, but also can improve supply chain efficiency and allow for in-motion interventions that might not have been possible otherwise.

In the near future, SBL technology will be able to provide customers with preventative analytics –data gained from past shipments that will help determine the ideal time of year, weather conditions, or even days of the week to ship most efficiently. 

Highly-sensitive shipments are a vital link between healthcare providers and patients, and the diagnostics, supplies and medicine they need. SBL technology is making it easier – and less anxiety-inducing – for shippers to send sensitive materials around the world.
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