Considering that the best supply chain is invisible to consumers, 2020 will be remembered as the year the supply chain became a primary focus of the world. It also was a common topic of conversation within households, as shoppers began encountering empty shelves where they expected to find toilet paper, milk, and disinfectant wipes.
Within the industry and beyond, it has become clear the supply chain lacks the unity, visibility, and agility to quickly pivot after the unforeseen port, lane, and municipality shutdowns caused by the pandemic. And with the urgency to establish a new normal, the pharmaceutical industry’s development and distribution of billions of vaccine doses added another layer of complexity to the supply chain.
COVID-19 vaccine distribution — a collaboration approach
A newly developed COVID-19 vaccine requires ultra-cold chain distribution at minus 70 C — far colder than the usual cold chain temperatures of 2 C-8 C. Monitoring these vaccines would have been costly and wasteful if the real-time visibility did not exist. This would have likely resulted in unnecessary waste due to very high excursion rates. Even more importantly, the lack of visibility and manual efforts would have slowed down the vaccine shipments, which need to get to patients quickly.
However, the COVID-19 vaccine distribution has highlighted the need for greater cooperation and communication between carriers, third-party logistics providers (3PLs), and manufacturers. These stakeholders have had to create unprecedented collaborative relationships and adopt cold chain visibility solutions to mitigate risk and waste — especially considering that 1-in-4 vaccines loses integrity during transit.
Additionally, working with national, state, and local governments became critical to ensure that the vaccines are distributed to health clinics and medical facilities. Working closely with United States government officials and designated sites, Controlant — a supply chain monitoring technology solution and service provider — created a comprehensive control tower to monitor vaccines throughout distribution and onsite. The Controlant platform and monitoring devices provide control tower services to facilitate responsiveness and corrective action according to its customers’ specific business rules. Controlant additionally offers reverse logistics for the reusable packaging and data loggers to cut down on waste.
“Ultimately, internal and external stakeholders work for the patient,” said Ada Palmadottir, quality and validation director at Controlant. “We got our start as the solution provider that helped Iceland reduce its pharmaceutical waste to 0.5% after the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. Because our system is in real-time, stakeholders throughout the supply chain can access the exact same information. There is a single source of truth that everyone can reference. All parties see the same data at the same time to truly understand what is happening. That reduces fragmentation and the silos that organizations often have. It also provides our customers with the opportunity to prevent excursions that could render products unsafe or unusable.”
By unifying all parties within an end-to-end supply chain control tower, stakeholders can increase their participation and level of responsiveness by having access to data when a problem arises. It also allows manufacturers, 3PLs, and distribution centers to own the data, reducing their dependency on other sources. Collaborative information sharing is critical to mitigating global supply chain risks as the world moves into a post-pandemic phase.
Food supply chain disruptions
The food supply chain faced its own challenges during the COVID-19 crisis , especially in those first few months when there was a considerable amount of uncertainty. For example, when meat processing plants like Tyson Foods and Smithfield began to shutter their operations after COVID-19 infected an onslaught of factory workers, this situation created employee shortages, disrupted the food supply, and forced many organizations to source foods and ingredients from new suppliers and vendors. Without real-time visibility data, companies cannot quickly pivot to find additional ingredient suppliers, distribution centers, or 3PLs to meet their needs.
“All supply chain partners are going to be challenged with issues like employees being out due to illness or taking care of family members. This is a variable that suppliers are unable to plan for,” said Jeremy Schneider, Food Safety and Quality Assurance Director at Controlant. “However, if a shipment is lost because of a temperature deviation, there’s a very low likelihood that you’re going to be able to get a replacement as quickly as you may have in a pre-COVID-19 world. Minimizing lost loads and the need for replacements is very important for our partners. Controlant helps to minimize those lost shipments, and we can actively intervene on our customers’ behalf.”
Because of the food industry’s tight margins, any technology adoption must show true value and return on investment — whether that’s a warehouse management system or real-time supply chain temperature monitoring.
But in July 2020, the Food and Drug Administration announced the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint, which proposed goals for food suppliers and manufacturers to improve their tech-enabled traceability, predictive analytics, response times to outbreaks, and reduction in food contamination.
Many food suppliers have struggled to modernize and embrace technology. Still, it is technology solutions like Controlant’s that will ultimately enable safe distribution of food and other perishable goods to consumers, minimize the effects of future disruptions, and provide internal and external partners real-time visibility.
Building an interconnected vendor network
While it’s human nature to fall back into familiar territory after a traumatic event, now is the time to learn from the disruptions caused by the pandemic and see the significant opportunity to build an interconnected network of vendor partnerships. An end-to-end supply chain control tower like provided by Controlant unites all partners across multiple organizations and platforms, allowing each entity to align actionable goals with the data.
But while visibility is a key first step, it’s no longer enough in the post-COVID-19 world. Real-time visibility needs to be layered with analytics, responsiveness, automation, and collaboration across the value chain. These additional components create true supply chain resilience, enabling companies to weather further disruption and change.
“Having truly actionable insights, not just data, allows organizations to move from a position of reaction to prevention,” said Schneider. “As soon as an organization identifies a problem within their supply chain like a temperature deviation, the organization can actively intervene. That may mean contacting the 3PL, the carrier, or the warehouse and let them know that there’s an issue happening right now and something needs to be done to mitigate that risk and potential waste.”
By using predictive analytics on thousands of shipments over time, Controlant’s solution can identify issues on certain highways, ports, or border crossings, allowing the customer to pursue alternative routes to avoid disruptions.
The ability to increase responsiveness and execution moving forward will be imperative to building resilient supply chains. Services — like 24/7 monitoring and response teams who work proactively with manufacturers and logistics providers to respond to risk and facilitate corrective action as it happens — are a critical part of moving the supply chain forward.
The modern control tower is fully automated, including business, logistics, and quality release processes, to name a few. It includes automation of communications and data sharing among all parties. The control tower uses escalation dashboards to automate processes according to predefined business rules set by the customer — for example, not just monitoring temperature and geolocation, but also if a pallet has been split up or arrived at the wrong location.
The control tower allows all cold chain partners — 3PLs, carriers, and manufacturers — to act on their aligned goals to mitigate risk and waste. Partnership relationships are assets in gaining a competitive edge, maintaining business continuity during disruptions, and ultimately increasing consumer safety and satisfaction.