Life Sciences & Healthcare Supply Chain

Robust systems and meticulous choreography: The art of temperature-controlled logistics. By Scott Allison, President Life Sciences & Healthcare Sector, DHL

DHL Life Sciences & Healthcare Supply Chain

The average life sciences and healthcare supply chain involves some 25 different parties – companies separately responsible for preparing, moving, holding, or checking the integrity of a shipment. Now imagine that the transiting pharmaceutical products or medical devices must be maintained within a temperature range of 2 to 8°C (36 to 46°F). Understandably, this requires robust systems and meticulous choreography.


Demand is increasing for the unbroken cold chain – an uninterrupted set of processes from manufacturing and storage to distribution and delivery undertaken in refrigerated conditions. We find that our customers are paying greater attention to the specifics of how their products are being shipped and want to provide more direct input. We therefore work closely with them to identify where we can establish more control mechanisms, enabling customers to track their shipments at all touch points, particularly through global air cargo facilities.


Today, technology enables us to gather data on any parameter of the supply chain – for example, not just temperature but also humidity, energy consumption, and even whether a door has been opened or closed. By transmitting this data via mobile devices, key processes can be monitored in real time from anywhere in the world. And throughout time, this is generating additional data – current and historical – as shipments move through the supply chain.


Ensuring cold chain integrity requires using rich analytics algorithms to turn raw data into actionable recommendations and warnings. These can improve storage and handover processes, guide business decisions, and prevent cold chain failures before they occur.


With temperature-controlled logistics, we use data to mitigate and predict risk. For example, we would start by looking at the validation performance of our packaging. Then, at the next level of our analysis, we would examine our process control around this packaging. We would be asking questions such as “How well can we control the process?” and “What’s the impact if we experience a deviation?”. It is essential that we take a scientific approach to the evaluation of risk through data – this is how we anticipate which process elements could go wrong and which ways any packaging might fail.


Cold chain logistics is constantly evolving – active and passive packaging solutions, new services provided by the airlines, and more. One of our customer surveys showed that 40% of our life sciences and healthcare customers consider maintaining temperature control to be a major issue. That is why many of our discussions with customers concern harnessing the power of big data and analytics. These highly targeted activities reduce risk and enable better decision making, ensuring we succeed in delivering temperature-controlled healthcare to the world.


Scott Allison, President Life Sciences & Healthcare Sector, DHL