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Why should India adopt IoT for the pharma supply chain?

Karen Ravindranath, Director, WebNMS - The IoT division of Zoho Corp. outlines how IoT implementation can help ramp up efficiency, quality assurance and customer satisfaction in the pharma supply chain

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Healthcare and pharma industries have always been crucial to the economy and human welfare. However, with the pandemic affecting markets and people across the globe and the need for unexpected demand for life-saving drugs and new research for vaccines, the pharma industry is seeing an acceleration in its growth trajectory.

India has been a leading player in the global pharma industry, in terms of generic medicines. It has been a major supplier of crucial medicines for some of the developed countries like the US, European countries and Japan. However, China still holds a major share of the pharma supply chain. With more than 70 per cent of the global supply of raw materials and APIs coming from China, the pandemic and its aftermath has led to many companies rethinking their dependence on a single provider and is looking to diversify its supply chain.

India, already one of the top players, can capitalise on this opportunity to further empower the pharma industry with reliability, quality and supply chain transparency to have a leading edge in the future.

Quality above everything for the pharma business

The pharma industry, with its strict compliance policies and approvals from the FDA and other agencies, is always under pressure to deliver optimal quality. The industry deals with lifesaving drugs and in case of any deviance in quality, the brand reputation and lives at large could be at stake!

Therefore, right from manufacturing and storage to distribution, various stages of the pharma supply chain need to be under constant monitoring in order to track discrepancies and curb any damage. IoT can empower the pharma supply chain with continuous monitoring, predictive maintenance and remote automation that can save millions of dollars lost on reactive maintenance, unexpected downtime, delays and costly loss of approvals due to underqualified medicines.

Let us discuss the various stages of the supply chain like manufacturing, warehousing and distribution and logistics where IoT-powered remote monitoring and automation can instil a profound difference in the way the operations are carried, even during a global crisis.

Manufacturing: Considering medicines deal with lives, it is highly essential for pharma companies to produce drugs at good quality and maintain standards and government regulations. Digitising the manufacturing process by using IoT application and getting timely data can help identify discrepancies early. This will ensure the quality and effectiveness of the drugs produced.

Automation in processing and packaging, along with continuous monitoring with IoT, will help create visibility into the process. It will also make the process data available online for higher management and administrative staff who are working remotely.

Testing and quality assurance take a different level when they are backed by process and manufacturing data. It is easier to identify and rectify issues or problems in quality by looking into the wealth of process data and help avoid such errors in future.

Warehouse and storage:  Once the products are out of the manufacturing units, it is highly critical to store them at a conducive environment in the warehouse. Various aspects of the warehouse environment like temperature, humidity, safety and hygiene can be monitored and managed using IoT applications. Moreover, data from manufacturing can be effectively connected to warehouse data in order to plan storage ahead and also align staff and other supply chain processes for smooth transfer of products from one stage to another. Considering crucial times such as the recent pandemic which requires the safety of staff and restricted movements, automation and proactive data from the warehouse can help them stay on the vigil and also be alerted in case of any operational snag.

Logistics and distribution: Safe movement and delivery of medicines are as important as maintaining the quality during manufacturing and storage. When there is a spike in demand for life-saving drugs, especially during such unexpected COVID -19 situations, it is important that pharma companies equip themselves with prompt logistics and distribution.

The advantage of using IoT in the pharma supply chain business is that it isn’t restricted only to stationary assets and operations. It can be a major game-changer in pharma logistics and distribution. Be it safety, consignment tracking, order tracking or organising and managing field staff, IoT applications can be used for different purposes within the industry. There are IoT applications to monitor the temperature and other aspects of drugs on the move by continuously monitoring the storage units of vehicles that transport the drugs. Besides, major factors like location of fleet, estimated time of arrival, fleet capacity, product capacity planning, distribution planning and even task allocation for the supply chain staff for loading and unloading can be managed using IoT solutions which are simple and effective visual applications. They can also engage field staff on the move with features to track locations, hospital visits, safety and other major factors that are crucial for business and management.

IoT for enterprise-wide management in pharma business

Data is the biggest asset. With IoT to connect multiple aspects of the pharma supply chain, it is only fair that the data obtained from various stages benefit the betterment of entire business operations. IoT can connect the data siloes of the different stages discussed, like manufacturing, storage and distribution, centralise the process and also offer valuable insights for the management to create better operational and business practices. Apart from centralising the supply chain operations, a good IoT application should be able to connect the data with other enterprise applications like CRM and ERP will offer an enterprise-wide orchestration of data that can offer seamless communication between teams even during limited workforce availability and unforeseen crisis.

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