Revolutionizing pharmaceutical cold storage

July 2, 2024
In pharma, cold storage has historically been labor-intensive and highly regulated, but new automated technology is helping the industry meet demands

When it comes to pharmaceuticals, precision and efficiency are crucial. From manufacturing to distribution, every step in the handling process requires attention to detail to ensure the safety of medical products, especially with temperature-sensitive drugs and vaccines.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals are perishable and can become less effective when exposed to temperatures outside the recommended storage range (between 36°F to 46°F). Errors in vaccine handling can result in patient harm and can leave people vulnerable and unprotected against diseases.  

Traditionally, pharmaceutical cold storage has been a labor-intensive and highly regulated process, but with the rapid advancements in automated technology, the landscape is evolving dramatically. 

Reduced labor requirements

Working in cold warehouses presents unique challenges due to harsh environmental conditions like low temperatures and humidity levels. Automation can minimize the amount of time workers need to spend in cold storage areas by streamlining processes such as inventory management, order picking and replenishment. By reducing the need for manual labor in these areas, automation helps minimize workers' exposure to cold temperatures, thereby reducing the risk of cold-related health issues such as frostbite and hypothermia.

Robotic systems are able to do heavy lifting when it comes to palletizing, picking and transporting goods within the cold storage facility, further reducing workplace injuries. Thanks to automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS), pharma companies can automate the storage and handling of products to reduce human error and labor costs.

Accurate order fulfillment

In addition to reducing human errors, automation in pharmaceutical storage combines automated picking systems, barcodes/RFID technology, inventory management software and robotics to track and improve inventory processes. This automated technology gives pharma companies the ability to handle multiple orders simultaneously, ensuring accurate order fulfillment even in high-volume environments.

By minimizing human intervention, these robots not only reduce the risk of errors but also optimize space utilization, leading to greater storage capacity and operational efficiency. 

Reliable regulatory compliance

To ensure the integrity of pharmaceutical products throughout their storage journey, it's important to implement advanced temperature monitoring and control systems. With intelligent software, vendors can continuously track environmental conditions like temperature, humidity and light exposure in real-time. This level of monitoring not only protects product quality, but also provides valuable data for regulatory compliance and quality assurance.  

Improved traceability

In addition to reliable regulatory compliance, automation is helping companies streamline the tracking and traceability capabilities of pharmaceuticals across the entire cold supply chain. Barcodes and RFID tags enable easy identification and monitoring of individual products and, thanks to sophisticated software systems, vendors can ensure accurate inventory tracking, expiration date management and batch segregation to minimize the risk of product recalls and errors.  

Enhanced sustainability practices

Another key aspect of warehouse automation is energy consumption optimization and sustainability practices. Because of the need for electricity to power refrigeration, cold storage facilities are notorious for their high energy requirements. However, advancements in energy-efficient cooling systems, coupled with smart grid technologies, are driving significant reductions in energy consumption and carbon emissions. Additionally, the implementation of automated lighting controls, motion sensors and insulation improvements further enhances energy efficiency, contributing to a greener and more sustainable operation.

By leveraging automation, cold storage facilities are optimizing operations, enhancing product integrity and advancing sustainability goals. As the pharma industry continues to evolve, embracing automation will be pivotal in meeting the ever-increasing demands for quality, safety and efficiency in cold chain logistics. 

About the Author

Danilo Potocnik | Director of Sales, Stoecklin Logistics

Danilo Potocnik is the Head of Sales at Stoecklin Logistics, Inc., where he has served since January 2017. With over 12 years at the company, he previously held roles as Head of Projects and Sales Manager North America, and has extensive experience in project engineering.