Keeping the Cold in Life Sciences

One of the biggest challenges in the life sciences industry is supply chain management. For temperature-sensitive products, the industry has similar supply chains to those in retail, though life science products are more complex to maintain than their retail counterparts.

Consider the following: A shipment of yogurt in retail needs to be shipped at one specific temperature, but a shipment of ingredients for drugs may require multiple different temperatures. Each ingredient needs to be kept at its own specific temperature and humidity. If these specifications are not met, they spoil.

Is it possible to apply learnings from retail cold-chain monitoring to drug ingredients? Yes, although we cannot just duplicate from one industry to the other. As mentioned, the two industries have entirely different processes. However, how to monitor the ingredients or products is technically the same.

Could we run inventory checks each time we move the products? That is possible, but not very efficient. Automating the process of inventory checks by having a computer software take care of it means human error is minimized and all employees can keep transparency between each other. And inventory checks leave open the possibility of spoilage, which can be very costly to the drug manufacturing process.

How SAP Leonardo for Life Sciences Can Help

SAP has introduced an industry innovation kit, SAP Leonardo for Life Sciences, cold chain logistics option, which maintains a high level of compliance with manufacturing quality regulations. The kit helps eliminate ingredient spoilage and the costs associated with spoilage. There are fewer quality-related defects, returns, and possible financial penalties, and a life sciences company can experience improved yield and reduced rework.

To use an analogy for how the kit works, think of yogurt as a biological drug. (Some people may argue the probiotics in yogurt are a drug, but let’s not digress.) Like medical drugs, yogurt has a cell culture inside of it that is beneficial to humans, helping humans digest food with good bacteria. Biological drugs use living cells to help humans fight disease. Both yogurt and biological drugs need to be kept at certain temperatures. If either one spoils, it could be harmful to humans.

SAP Leonardo for Life Sciences, cold chain logistics option, works similarly to the retail industry innovation kit that focuses on logistics. To stay consistent with the yogurt analogy, the idea of both kits is to prevent spoilage. SAP has divided the logistics software into three different categories: inbound, manufacturing, and outbound. For inbound logistics, the kit monitors the storage conditions for the raw materials, which helps ensure that the raw materials have not spoiled and are therefore ready to be used immediately. If a shipping truck’s air conditioning unit lost power, the software would alert the driver to quickly find a replacement truck or a refrigerated warehouse to move the product to. If the logistics to the manufacturer work correctly, then the raw materials arrive safely at the manufacturer and can be used as ingredients.

In the manufacturing process time out of refrigeration (TOR) is extremely important. During manufacturing, it is crucial to understand TOR. With the kit, drug manufacturing laboratory workers can monitor temperature variances of the refrigeration units. This data will help them to predict failures in the efficacy of the final medicine.

Once the drugs are made and stored in the warehouse, the kit continues to monitor the temperature and provide valuable insight on each specific drug’s temperature and humidity. Laboratory workers can now see each drug virtually represented through SAP Cloud Platform, which can help optimize production and maximize inventory levels.

Last but certainly not least is outbound logistics. Once the drugs have been manufactured, the finished goods ship to distributors. The kit can collect data on the outbound shipments to help ensure on-time shipping and detect any in-transit spoilage.

The Importance 0f Sensors

Each sensor that comes with the industry innovation kit carries out a different task that carries out the end result. Geo fences are applied to define a virtual border to recognize movements and placement of storage and transportation units. Storage units such as refrigerators are equipped with location sensors, smart tags, and optional ambient environment sensors, which together measure both the internal and external temperature, humidity, and vibration of the drugs. Smart tags are sensors that provide information to users and systems based on location and information provided. The smart tag may contain a display and be attached to the storage unit to provide details on the material stored within the storage unit — fill level, temperature, material stored, current TOR, etc. Lastly, transportation units such as forklifts are equipped with location sensors and smart tag readers as well.

The kit gives life science companies insight into their supply chain: They can track their goods in real time and know if something has spoiled or is prone to spoiling sooner than normal. With this information, life science managers can optimize production and increase inventory.

Learn more about the cold chain logistics option