Giving Voice to the pharmaceutical industry

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Darrel Williams, regional director, EMEA, Vocollect, considers how Voice technology improves accuracy, traceability and productivity in the pharmaceutical industry.

As anyone involved with logistics knows, the accurate and timely movement of the right goods to the right place is key to any company's success. When it comes to the pharmaceutical industry, this basic requirement is more than just a business issue; get it wrong and it's not only livelihoods that are put at risk, it's also people's lives.

Consequently, accuracy and traceability are the most important challenges for those involved in the distribution of drugs and medicines today. A pharmaceutical operation needs to know everything about a given batch of product (origin, life-cycle storage conditions, location, etc.) so it is vital that a product's history moves with it at all times. This also ensures product security and helps combat counterfeiting and black-market trade.

Important business challenge

Yet, despite this emphasis on quality, integrity and making sure that the end-user gets the correct drug, pharmaceutical firms still need to make a profit. The expiry of patents on many popular brand-name drugs, coupled with the decline of new patent grants in recent years means that on-going revenues can no longer be guaranteed. Whilst accuracy of distribution is essential, speed of delivery and availability of stock to meet uncertain demand become an important business challenge.

Automation has likely played a part in optimising the manufacturing process, however, downstream when it comes to distribution, order picking and the selection of smaller SKUs –sometimes a single pill – automation is not a viable option; it takes the human touch!

Vocollect Voice technology achieves near 100 per cent picking accuracy, in warehouses and distribution centres worldwide, in almost every vertical market sector, including some of the major pharmaceuticals. When simple instructions are given, users can focus their actions and attention entirely on picking the right product with the right batch number. Their selection is confirmed by the user 'talking back' to the host system, which validates the accuracy of the pick in real time and creating the audit trail.

Focus of attention

Voice technology is hands and eyes-free , so naturally when the user hears an instruction, their eyes are drawn to the subject, which remains the  focus of the users attention until the correct product is selected and verified (unlike other technologies where the user's focus is drawn back to a to a screen or pick list, which requires additional input). This is where mistakes will happen.

The pharmaceutical sector demands lot/batch traceability and it is often best practice to combine Voice with other complementary technologies: Voice for all productivity, focus and validation activities (e.g. ensuring the correct locations or quantities) and scanning or RFID for actual data collection (unique batch information). This harmony of technology creates best- of- breed solutions that deliver improved throughput and the traceability demanded by legislation.

The real benefit here is that Voice technology can achieve this accuracy without slowing down the process. In fact, quite the opposite; productivity gains of around 20 per cent are standard. One of our clients, the CIO of the Harvard Drug Group, told us: "We achieved 100 per cent payback on Vocollect almost immediately. Since we operate under mandated pedigree laws, we wouldn't have been able to get our products out within the required two-hour ordering time. Previously, we struggled to validate our lots in the required timeframes."

By ensuring accuracy and traceability – and in turn productivity and profitability – Vocollect Voice helps pharmaceuticals build and maintain their brand reputation, comply with legal requirements and, importantly, ensure end users have the right products at the right time.

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