Start of the COVID-19 pandemic brings the first challenges
February 2020: a flight to China carrying life-saving medication is cancelled, and it’s unclear at this point when flights will resume. The transport department is running on all cylinders and staying on top of the latest developments, trying frantically to find alternative solutions. Interim supply chain professional Marco van der Meulen, looking back on this period: ‘Even if there was a flight available, changing the reservation was tricky as the paperwork was all handled by China. It turned out we couldn’t change flights at short notice, so we had to keep searching. When DHL eventually found us an available flight, we changed the reservation right away. As we were able to get right on it and thanks to strong teamwork within the supply chain, the cargo ended up arriving in time. Unfortunately, the pandemic had only just begun at that point.’
Limited number of flights causes delivery problems
The high degree of dependence of passenger aircraft makes it challenging to deliver cargo on time, especially now that airlines are operating fewer flights and industry competition is fierce. The limited shelf life of many medications combined with reduced air traffic is wreaking havoc on inventory management. If medications are not delivered on time, they can no longer be used and need to be destroyed: this is a disaster scenario resulting in millions of euros in losses.
Need for an airtight supply chain in the pharmaceutical industry
Pressure to deliver goods on time in the pharmaceutical industry is so great because many medications are live-saving. For one, coronavirus vaccines will need to be distributed in the not-too-distant future, and a weak supply chain could be detrimental to their efficacy. There are several factors that present a major logistics challenge in this process, starting with the constant freezing temperature (CFT) at which medications must be kept and transported. Only a select number of airports provide the facilities required to accommodate these needs, and a highly integrated logistics chain is needed to continuously monitor these temperatures.