Transforming the Supply Chain with Condition-Monitoring

May 20, 2019

Considerations for monitoring impact, vibration, and temperature during package transportation and storage.

To improve competitiveness, some pharmaceutical companies have launched efforts to increase efficiency and supply-chain transparency by spending more on packaging and decreasing shipment sizes. While these options can help mitigate some risks, they don’t pinpoint the root cause of issues that arise during transportation, such as potentially compromised packages or damaged products. The best solution for catching damages or problems in the supply chain is monitoring. 

Monitoring 

A variety of monitors exist to meet a company’s supply chain needs. Whether it’s to monitor impact, vibration, and/or temperature-related changes, companies have several options. However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, so how does a company decide what’s right for them? 

Potential users often have many questions, with some of the most common being:

  • How do I know what to monitor for?

  • Can I use multiple monitors at a time?

  • How can I start using these devices to improve my supply chain?

Fortunately, there are a few steps companies can take to ensure they are using the right device.

Choosing the best device

Companies shouldn’t wait for a problem to occur before implementing a monitoring device. When choosing the right option, users should consider multiple factors including ease of implementation, ease of interpretation of the data these devices provide, resources associated with reshipping products, and common problems that can occur for products within the industry. For example, some medications are required to stay within a certain temperature range, meaning those shipments should be monitored for temperature-related damages. 

Recorders vs. indicators

Ease of implementation and interpretation go hand in hand when considering the type of device to use. Indicators are single-use, simple devices, whereas recorders provide robust amounts of data and analysis. Both provide benefits and drawbacks depending on the situation. Indicators are simple yes/no devices that allow customers to quickly sort product that may or may not need additional evaluation. Because this option isn’t as costly, they can be used to monitor each individual box in a shipment, instead of just a pallet or truck load. However, indicators won’t provide a complete account of the journey.

If a product is compromised or requires more attention, recorders provide a complete history of what happened. Users can see how often or how long a product was over a threshold rather than just knowing it was exceeded. However, recorders are more expensive and usually require more than a glance in order to interpret the state of the shipment.

Measuring impact, vibration, and temperature

Potential users should consider what risks are present in their supply chain. Is the shipment cold-chain related or physically fragile? Understanding the physical and environmental conditions that can compromise a product allows users to choose a solution that best fits their specific need. 

The importance of real-time updates

Another consideration is how quickly you can respond to supply chain conditions. Real-time monitoring is the best option in most cases, because it allows users to make immediate decisions when conditions are out of tolerance. Some companies use the cloud to host real-time aggregated data, providing users with a dashboard of information and easy-to-read graphs with details such as location, temperature, and impacts over time (see Figure 1). With the advent of the Internet of things, real-time monitoring systems are becoming standard processes.

Implementation

Once decisions have been made about what to use, what to measure, and how to monitor, users can choose the best implementation plan. 

Are the data being used to sample conditions of the supply chain? Is the full data set necessary for possible insurance claims? What is the value of the product being shipped compared to the cost of the monitor? These are all important things to consider when deciding on the type of monitoring program and how many devices are necessary to accomplish the job.

Another factor that could affect the type and amount of devices used is the stage of the supply chain. Materials should be monitored at all stages, but the type of monitoring may change at each stage. If a truckload of pharmaceutical products is being shipped from a manufacturing site to a distribution site, the shipment may have several recorders on board. When that shipment is broken down into smaller shipments and moves to smaller distribution sites, recorders might be used in combination with indicators. Once products make their way to the last mile, indicators will be a better option for consumers to easily understand. As more of the population moves away from brick-and-mortar stores toward online-only transactions, individuals will require an easy-to-read indicator to determine product quality on their own. 

Understanding and using data

One final thing to understand about condition monitoring is how to interpret and use data. This applies not only to situations where damage occurs, but also to situations in which nothing out of the ordinary takes place. Keeping track of whether or not damage was done allows companies to determine if specific carriers, routes, or warehouses perform better than others. If a carrier routinely has damage claims, hard data can help them understand which products need to be handled with more care to improve their overall service. If damage continues even after a monitoring program is in place, a company can determine why things haven’t improved and what steps need to be implemented to encourage better performance. 

With an established monitoring program, incoming inspection speeds could also increase. If receivers are able to discern which products are ready for the next step in the supply chain, they can concentrate on ones that indicate there has been mishandling.

Choosing the right device can take time, but having protective measures pays off. The transparency that comes with monitoring, especially in real time, allows companies to spend less on reproducing, packaging, and shipping products, and increases overall efficiency. 

About the author

Angela Kerr is vice-president of product portfolio at SpotSee, akerr@spotsee.io