Serialization Supply Chain Challenges Series: Leverage the Complexity of Serialization in Your Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Processes

Serialization offers both opportunities and challenges for companies in Life Sciences. As you have discovered in my previous blog, the use of sGTIN and SSCC numbers is a sound method to battle counterfeit drugs and keep the supply chain for pharmaceuticals safe and free of corruption. But serialization – and the increasing pressure from regulators to become more transparent in your end-to-end supply chain – adds a growing complexity. In every aspect of your manufacturing, warehousing, and logistic processes. The good news? The stand-alone ATTP solution you are using for serialization can be integrated in your supply chain, more specifically in your existing or in a new (E)WM solution, optimizing your operation efficiency and simplifying your processes.

In this blog, I will outline several challenges in the outbound, internal, and inbound processes, that you can run into as a pharmaceutical company with regards to serialization. However, I will also show you how you can leverage this growing complexity and compliancy in your facility, and use it to do the work smarter, safer, and more efficient. All it takes is an end-to-end solution of which you make your serialization solution an integral part.

Ready to read how you can get rid of manual error-prone labor and up the flexibility of your organization regarding rules, regulations, and market trends? Here we go!

The Impact of Serialization on Outbound Processes

Up Your Customer Service by Simplifying Loading

One of the most complicating serialization factors in outbound processes is loading (interlinking serial numbers to delivery numbers) of items for markets that require serialize and trace activities (e.g., Russia, China, Saudi Arabia). This is the process in which all parties in the supply chain need to be informed about the exact objects that are being shipped from location to location. Quite the work. As explained in the previous blog aggregation minimizes the amount of objects that need to be scanned. However, when you do not integrate loading into your outbound process it can be easily forgotten by a user. Moreover, when this process is not integrated and not enhanced with repack functionality it will only be possible to ship full boxes or pallets to the customer. Integrate this ATTP process into your warehousing solution, and you can even offer better customer service to your clients.

Aggregation

First things first. The starting point – if you want to simplify the loading process – is aggregation. It accelerates the outbound supply chain process (certainly when goods are shipped between several countries), because only SSCC numbers of boxes and pallets need to be scanned, instead of all the serial numbers.

Repacking

Aggregation gets complex when a customer orders partial boxes or partial pallets. With wholesalers, this is rarely the case, but for pharmacies this is a bottleneck. Now, most manufacturers limit the flexibility of the order quantity, so that the customer can only order full boxes or pallets. Which is, obviously, not very customer friendly. Some medication can be very expensive, and the obligation to order an entire box could deter or postpone a sales order. Instead of limiting orders, go for an integrated repack solution in your picking process, with which you can offer your customers the option of ordering partial boxes. This solution prompts the operator to scan the serial numbers that are picked and automatically repacks these numbers to the relevant box and/or pallet. Making it possible to pick partial boxes or pallets.

The repack solution will, again, also eliminate human errors like forgetting to scan items and has an automated calculation tool that alerts the picker when the requested pick quantity was reached. And although developing and integrating such a solution takes time and money, it also drives great value in the long run. Currently, we are working on such an integration, so we recommend you keep an eye on our NTT DATA Business Solutions social channels and blog section.

The Impact of Serialization on Internal Processes

Win over Customers with a Smart Repacking Integration

If a customer can order partial pallets, it comes with consequences for your internal processes. Pallets might need to be consolidated at some point, because we all know it’s not efficient to store a pallet with just one box on it. Repacking this, however, has an impact on the ATTP hierarchy of a pallet, since the serial numbers it contains, need to be assigned to a different pallet. If you offer this partial-pallet-service to your customers and you do your repacking activities manually, it costs you a lot of time and money, plus, you’ll risk that the two systems are no longer in sync. It’s one of the main reason manufacturers do not offer this service. However, integrate ATTP and this functionality in your warehousing system architecture and you’ll get an inventory-space-saving, timesaving, and money-saving solution that ups your level of service at the same time. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Integration Makes Decommissioning Easier

The process of decommissioning items – meant for the European market – for export to external markets or article 23 customers (such as universities, veterinary surgeons, and government bodies) is complicated. Mainly because it contains a lot of manually triggered actions. You must dispense the items in the European Database in a separate transaction. Integrate this ATTP activity in your (E)WM pick process, and you can achieve this semi-automatically with less hassle or errors. You still must scan products manually, but warehouse pickers will get an automated pop-up to dispense items through the same transaction. A big plus, because you won’t have to settle in or instruct new employees, different shift workers, or temps anymore. And anyone who works with the scanner is less likely to make mistakes.

How to Never Forget to Scrap an Item

Another outbound activity that could be optimized with the integration of ATTP in your warehousing system, is the scrapping process. It is mandatory to report which serial numbers are being scrapped, to prevent that the serial numbers of these packs remain active. By integrating the process, a pop-up message is shown on the scanner in case serial numbers need to be scanned. The system detects serialization objects that need to be scanned, making it easy for users to recognize the scenario. Again, with this integration, there is little room for human errors.

The impact of serialization on inbound processes

Prevent the Scrapping of Sellable Medication

When customers return items that are serialized, these products cannot just be resold. It is mandatory that a check is executed against the European Database for each returned item to see if its status is still correct. Without the right tool this costs a lot of time (and money), and often, manufacturers opt for scrapping. However, if an item is not already marked as dispensed it could be resold. To me this sounds like the most desirable outcome, considering the scarcity of medication these days. In case of water damage, scrapping is the obvious choice. But what if a customer ordered too many boxes and sends back good quality products?

SAP ATTP doesn’t provide an efficient solution for this issue. With our integrated return verification tool, it is possible to scan returned boxes or items (with an audit-trail) and automatically send a request to the European Database to verify their real-time status. You can now re-sell the items and adhere to all rules and regulations that come with this action. Easy, efficient, and sustainable!

Integration Makes Internal Logistics Efficient

When CMO’s or other plants internally transfer serialized and traced items, these items must be received in ATTP in the related location. If the external plants are in the same SAP landscape, the captured serial numbers from the issuing plant can be used to trace back which items need to be received. We came up with an integrated solution that makes sure this happens automatically in the back end, so that an extra scanning action doesn’t need to happen. Another example of how you can simplify the complexity of serialization in your processes and work more efficiently.

The Future of Serialization in Supply Chain: Stay Tuned!

Of course, this is not where the story of challenges in serialization ends. I’ve got more insights to share. In my next blog, I will share our vision on the future of serialization. Where is the Life Sciences industry headed in respect to serialization? What are new developments we can expect? Are there any innovative technologies we will undoubtedly see emerge in Life Sciences soon? Spoiler alert: there are! In the next blog, we will also dive into the potential of blockchain technology for the optimization of supply chain processes that deal with serialized products.

Can’t wait until our next blog to find out how you can leverage all this growing complexity in your pharmaceuticals supply chain in a practical way? We are more than happy to discuss your challenges with you.

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More About Our Solutions for Life Sciences

Robert Klauss
Robert Klauss
Supply Chain Management Consultant and Life Sciences Specialist

After finishing his master’s degree in strategic management at the Erasmus University Robert has joined the Life Sciences business unit at NTT Data Business Solutions. Here he has developed himself as a Supply Chain Management and Life Sciences specialist. Over the years Robert was involved in various (Extended) Warehouse Management and Advanced Track & Trace implementations. The way in which serialization helps with battling against the counterfeit pharmaceuticals industry and the complexity of integrating serialization activities in the supply chain processes fascinates Robert. His goal is to help drug manufacturers with making their serialization processes as effortless and straightforward as possible.

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