Managing Pharmaceutical Recalls with Automation

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How warehouse execution systems can help in case of a drug recall.

To respond quickly to problems within the manufacturing process, it is essential to connect a warehouse execution system (WES) to external systems both upstream and downstream in the supply chain. This integration helps prevent contaminated products from ever leaving the facility, potentially saving lives in the process.

A WES is a warehousing software solution that combines a tightly integrated warehouse management system (WMS) and warehouse control system (WCS) into a single application to help manufacturers and distributors direct, control, and optimize internal material flow and order picking. This two-in-one solution performs the tasks of both systems through a single interface. 

Identifying recalled products

There are many reasons for recalls in the pharmaceutical industry, including packaging defects, contamination of a product, improper testing of a product, or inherent safety problems that could harm a patient or user. Other pharmaceutical recall causes are due to dangerous side effects, creation of a safer drug alternative, or improper use of the drug that causes serious injury or death. 

By providing a high-degree of product traceability, an integrated WES can help manufacturers discover and act upon these issues sooner. Earlier detection of recalls often allows manufacturers to better understand what specific product is to be recalled, thus reducing the scope of the recall effort and targeting only the affected inventory.


Integrating a WES with manufacturing processes can also be used to provide automatic alerts to the warehouse when products are contaminated to keep the product from leaving the warehouse, eliminating the recall process. 

Processing pharmaceutical recalls

In the event of recalls, pharmaceutical manufacturers must execute the necessary processes throughout the supply chain to return the recalled products. Recall processes can be automated within a WES to guide individuals through the process to ensure a complete, well-organized, well-documented, and efficient handling of the affected product.

By using a WES that is tightly integrated with other supply chain systems, pharmaceutical manufacturers have complete tracking capabilities of a product throughout the operation from origination to point of sale. With a WES, manufacturers are able to quickly and easily identify products that are part of a recall. Further, companies have the ability to utilize the information from the WES to provide their customers with all of the necessary information needed to identify and return the recalled product efficiently, saving both the company and its customers’ time and money.

Currently, product attributes, such as weight, height and length, are captured and utilized in the WES. However, once packages are serialized, the WES can use these data for tracking the product throughout its lifecycle, as an additional level of detail for a given product.

About the author

Dave Williams is vice-president of software development at Westfalia.