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New and Emerging Supply Chain Technologies

The following edited excerpts are from a panel discussion hosted by the ELPRO Leading Minds Network as part of its Temperature Control Tuesdays™ programming in partnership with Biocom California. The session included Carli Derifield, CEO, Cold Chain Consult; Stefan Braun, Managing Director, SmartCAE; Adam Armstrong, VP of Strategic Partnerships, Specright; and Jeroen van Loo, Global Business Management, ELPRO.

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Key Takeaways: 

  • Find out about new supply chain technologies, such as digital virtual cold chain modeling, real-time monitoring, and cloud-based software for managing specifications and how these new and emerging applications complement each other.
  • Explore how companies that make data searchable (via new systems) and share them with others can manage future bottlenecks better in scenarios like the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Discover how the COVID-19 pandemic became a real driver for transformation in the cold supply chain.

The cold supply chain industry has been under pressure over the past 18+ months. Nevertheless, the global pandemic has shown how vital it is to find new ways to be in control of the supply chain, to have more visibility into it, to assess performance, and to provide data and information needed to make agile decisions. New and emerging technologies, such as digital virtual cold chain modeling, real-time monitoring, and connected IoT sensors, as well as temperature-controlled packaging, digitization, and end-to-end supply chain visibility and integration are driving fast change and disrupting the biopharma supply chain with global implications. They are key to enabling companies to make informed decisions and gaining flexibility to get their temperature-sensitive products to the end customer. Also, to better serve the people waiting for those products.

The past 18 months have really proven to us that data are important
Carli Derifield, Cold Chain Consult

DIGITAL VIRTUAL COLD CHAIN MODELING

By using a digital twin version of their real cold chain, a so-called virtual cold chain can enable companies to do all the things they do in the real cold chain prior to shipping any goods. Thee virtual scenarios can help answer important questions, such as: What happens in case of delays in my shipments? How do different packaging or shipping lane options determine the risk of having temperature extrusions? What will be the most efficient solution and how does it affect the total cost of ownership?

Cold chain modeling solutions, such as those provided by SmartCAE can create thousands of shipment scenarios in minutes. Later on, when the real shipment has been done, customers can take their actual lane data, apply it, and learn a little more.

A virtual cold chain is to bring end-to-end visibility, transparency, and more confidence that your shipments will work. That’s why we do it.
Stefan Braun, SmartCAE

Typical users of this technology are:

  1. Packaging companies, using it to build the boxes and to speed up the whole testing process. A typical climate chamber test takes 120 hours; in a virtual cold chain modeling system, it only takes five minutes, saving a lot of time.
  2. Pharma companies use these modeling systems to find out what could happen on a certain lane so that they know the risk of having temperatures extrusions. You can easily run tens of thousands of tests in a day when a simulation takes only minutes.
  3. Logistic companies use them to compare different route options and boxes. Then they match the best together to be more efficient under total costs.

We can help to find the real reasons.
Stefan Braun, SmartCAE

REAL-TIME MONITORING

Real-time monitoring is far more than the delivery of constantly updated data, like temperature, humidity, and location. It is the 24/7 provision and accessibility of data in a database, GDP-compliant storage of reports, data analysis and evaluation. It means being in control of this data, being able to respond proactively to alarms or notifications.

If specifications change during transit, companies must do a reassessment of the data. Real-time temperature monitoring systems enable companies to make traceable changes in the configuration, or in the profile setting, so an audit trail indicating all the steps is visible.

With regard to qualification, ELPRO makes it as easy as possible on the customer by supplying the necessary documentation. Qualification gets trickier and more challenging if data are to be shared with third party platforms via API. Data then gets outside of the qualified system into a new system that is not controlled control.

The final line is that you are in control.
Jeroen van Loo, ELPRO

Using the mobile IoT communication platform for real-time communication offers many advantages. Data loggers can switch between NB-IoT for products in storage and the LTE-M communication protocol for products in transit. Using the LTE-M protocol reduces battery consumption of the device and hence the life of the data logger. Use of public networks and these protocols eliminates the need for companies to build their own networks where data are be accessed or retrieved. There is no need to use a SIM card, as it is global roaming everywhere. Another advantage is that NB-IoT and LTE-M protocols are established 100 percent in Northern America. Europe and the rest of the world are following quickly. In cases where customers already have their own systems, ELPRO offers an active API that can transmit data to a third-party platform via the MQTT protocol.

You can make your own system more valuable by adding the ELPRO data to your system.
Jeroen van Loo, ELPRO

CLOUD-BASED SOFTWARE FOR MANAGING SPECIFICATIONS

Even though most companies use ERP systems, PLM, and other data management software, the specification details of their packaging, of their temperature-controlled solutions, often lives in spreadsheets and PDFs. It is not searchable, and people have different versions. A cloud-based software for managing specifications, such as Specright, helps customers to manage their products, their full bill of materials, their ingredients, raw materials, even their machinery specifications, and even their packaging.

These systems support the management of granular details of the specification, from dimensions to load volumes, to temperature ranges and (for all products) temperature control solutions. Thus, making them accessible to various departments (i.e. new product development, quality, procurement, and operations). Increased regulatory and compliance demands, and the increasing importance of sustainability in the supply chain and with products, make it necessary for companies to have more transparency into this information.

There are two driving forces for a cloud-based approach: regulations and sustainability.
Adam Armstrong, Specright

With regard to qualification, customers usually follow a phased implementation approach. Specright begins using the modules that do not require qualification. If third party validations and qualifications are required, Specright has a team supporting that.

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INTERPLAY AND COMPLEMENTATION

Virtual cold chain modeling can do thousands of simulations in a few hours to find out which route and box will best fit the demands of a temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical product shipment. Customers will know exactly what type of box is needed at a certain time to minimize the risks. Temperature monitoring can help verifying these assumptions. If there is never an alarm, a company may be over-engineering the box. In such cases, the company can potentially save time and cost by choosing and alternative mode of transport, or a different box.

If you over-engineer everything, then it will become too costly

Stefan Braun, SmartCAE

Specification details can be included in a virtual cold chain solution to fuel the thermal simulations, and then the recommended solution can be sent back for future reference.

Integrated data is key to specification management.

Adam Armstrong, Specright

At the same time, real-time environmental monitoring data may be pulled from sensors and sent to the specification software, and then tracked against the specifications. This enables companies to identify when something varies from the specification, triggers alerts, or to create trend reports.

Real-time data logger monitoring and specifications help bulletproof lane and evaluate the sustainable perspective of a box.

Stefan Braun, SmartCAE

 

Real-time environmental monitoring can be made available for any system, be it a virtual cold chain solution or a specification management system.

Temperature and humidity monitoring can be contributed anywhere.

Jeroen van Loo, ELPRO

 

DATA OWNERSHIP, SHARING DATA, MAKING DATA SEARCHABLE

Customers should always own their data regardless of the software they use to monitor, assess, and archive it. If using public data, such as historical weather data, it should always be used in the right context. There is tremendous value in sharing certain data sets – anonymized – with other companies. Companies could, for example, avoid running the same test on the same packaging, or the same solution that somebody else has already created and validated. They could also benefit from comparing their test shipment data with a large amount of real shipments and historic data. Virtual cold chain software can complete thousands of shipment scenarios within minutes. Then, lane data from real shipments can then be applied to make future scenarios more robust.

And yet, companies seldomly share their own data, especially when it is not anonymous data.

New supply chain technologies are making big data searchable and enabling companies to find valuable resources and suppliers. But, going one step further, these technologies could also be used to share certain data sets. Suppliers and manufacturers of different materials, packaging products and solutions, could input their specifications into a database accessible by all users. Companies could then search through the database of what their suppliers have supplied and provided. Beyond that, they could see what other solutions might be available and search it search it by region, location, and capabilities, ideally finding new suppliers. A true benefit, especially when there is a shortage, or scenarios like the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

DRIVER "COVID-19 PANDEMIC"

During the last 18+ months, the COVID-19 pandemic has been an important driver to improvements within the cold supply chain:

  1. Revealing the need for libraries. Customers are more aware that there is a need to have a library where they can pull up all the information in order to know what happens within their cold chain and to respond to it proactively.
  2. Fostering digital transformation. Remote work means that more and more people are working and exchanging information with computers and digital systems. The use of outdated software and hardware causes problems and dissatisfaction. Therefore, many companies are undergoing digital transformation, updating their systems, and getting more modern software and technology.
  3. Making tribal knowledge accessible. Many people have critical information in their head, on their own computer, or written down. COVID-19 has accelerated the need to put that into a location where everyone can access it.
  4. Flexibly expanding supplier networks. The access to data and the possibility to share data and information fast and flexible have helped companies quickly find and qualify new suppliers.
  5. Managing disrupted supply chains – As shipping timeframes are very short at the moment, customers cannot wait for a dedicated season to do certain tests, i. e. summer tests. Virtual cold chain modeling speeds up the whole process and the reaction time. 

They could share data with a new supplier at a click of a button.
Adam Armstrong, Specright

FINAL CONCLUSION

We are going to rely on technology more, so that the human experts in the cold supply chain are able to make decisions without being under duress. Having these tools to make our decisions and having visibility to the data is the only way forward.

Carli Derifield, Cold Chain Consult

WATCH THE PANEL DISCUSSION

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