Getting better visibility into the pharmaceutical pipeline via voice directed work

INFORMATION: Free information is available from VOCOLLECT on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

The pharmaceutical industry has recently undergone vast transformation. Manufacturing innovation has led to a dramatic increase in the number and complexity of products. The regulatory landscape has changed beyond recognition as regulatory bodies try to control of the threat of bioterrorism and drug counterfeiting and prices have been driven down by competition from generic drug sales.

With increasing pressure to manage regulatory compliance, improveproductivity and drive profit, pharmaceutical companies can no longer afford to carry inefficiencies in the supply chain. New, innovative ways of streamlining and improving process efficiency are required to ensure more accurate, responsive operations.

Being heard in the warehouse

Pharmaceutical companies are embracing these challenges by turning to Voice-Directed Distribution in their distribution centres (DC) as a core component of their supply chain management. Voice systems use speech recognition and synthesis technology to communicate instructions from the warehouse management systems (WMS) to the mobile worker through a wearable computer and headset. The worker then sends spoken information back via a radio link, facilitating real-time, item-level inventory management as drug shipments enter and leave the DC. This eliminates the need for cumbersome and error prone tools such as paper lists, labels and scanners, making it easier to deliver measurable improvements to accuracy and productivity, amongst other benefits.

Logosys is one Vocollect customer who has experienced the benefits of replacing radio frequency data terminals with Voice-Directed Distribution. Logosys specialises in pharmaceutical logistic services for some of the worlds largest pharmaceutical manufacturers. After implementing Vocollects Talkman terminals supplied by ZetesIND, productivity rose more than 15 per cent, and process quality improved dramatically, reducing the error margin to almost zero.

While picking remains the most popular deployment for voice technology, many other warehouse processes, including replenishing, putting products away, back stocking or line loading can be accomplished more efficiently with its implementation, providing even greater ROI. After successfully implementing voice for order picking, Logosys extended the use of voice terminals to transportation, using voice for pallet moving for replenishment of the order handling zone.

Eliminating errors

For most companies, order accuracy is the largest benefit gained from voice systems, with many regularly achieving accuracy rates of 99.9 per cent and above. With Voice-Directed Distribution, its virtually impossible to pick the wrong product as theres no risk of a device display, paper label or pick list being misread. Check digits confirm the workers location and dont allow them to continue unless they read the appropriate digits, eliminating mistakes or ambiguity. This leads to a significant reduction in returns picked in error or not captured by the auditing process which can considerably impact profit.

Smith Drug Company distributes pharmaceuticals and over the counter merchandise. Under its paper based system the company had thousands of dollars of customer reported errors even after a verification bar code scan. After converting all operations to Vocollect Voice-Directed Distribution it improved productivity by over 20 per cent, picking 7000 cases daily with 99.9 per cent order accuracy.

Enhancing visibility

Voice-Directed Distribution also increases visibility into the supply chain, vital for managing regulatory pressure and facilitating recalls. Recent drug recalls have generated much unwanted publicity for the industry and put supply chain transparency under more scrutiny than ever before. Industry regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and guidelines from the US Food and Drug Administration have strengthened traceability across the pharmaceutical supply chain and enforce increased cross-company and border transparency to stop the counterfeit drugs trade. However, these regulations have been difficult to enforce in Europe where counterfeiting is fuelled by the movement and repackaging of branded drugs between EU countries. A voice-directed approach helps pharmaceutical companies comply with these regulations by providing a cost-effective method of tracking inventory throughout the DC.

Maximising productivity

Vocollects customer, Australian Pharmaceutical Industries (API) is an integrated healthcare services company with a nationwide distribution network. Voice has helped API increase order fulfilment to around 99.9 per cent on prescription lines and 98 per cent on over the counter goods. It has also allowed API to move from regular quality checks of all orders to checking random orders leading to further improvements in productivity.

Freedom of flexibility

One reason voice delivers such huge improvements to productivity is its flexibility. As voice systems communicate with the WMS in real time, operators can re-sequence assignments, obtain labour reports and respond to stock outs when, or even before they happen, rather than later in the process. Also, as voice is product independent, management can commit additional resources to areas with excessive demand and workers can complete multiple assignments simultaneously. Voice can also operate in different zones. This is particularly important in the pharmaceutical industry as workers often need to handle dangerous or perishable drugs which need to be stored in secure or temperature controlled environments. Furthermore, different product methodologies can be applied to fast or slow moving products. Products can be placed in high density pick zones or batch picking can be implemented, reducing travel distances.

Voice is hands free, eyes free. Workers can move through the warehouse without cumbersome equipment to slow them down or distract them; vastly improving health and safety. This is particularly important in the pharmaceutical warehouse, where workers often deal with dangerous items requiring careful handling. As focus is never removed from the task, instances of product damage or worker injuries are reduced providing further savings to the bottom line.

Time is of the essence

The pharmaceutical market is extremely time sensitive. Manufacturing innovation has created increasingly complex products which often have very short shelf lives and require high-speed distribution. Urgent orders may require delivery within a couple of hours of the DC receiving an order. A benefit of Voice-Directed Distribution is that there is no need to look down to check a pick list or confirm a pallet, saving precious time as the worker moves between pick faces.

It is in situations when workers are under pressure to get things done quickly that mistakes are most likely to be made. However, as voice is so easy to use, this pressure is considerably reduced.

Reaping the benefit

As the examples of Logosys, Smith Drug and API highlight, voice technology can far outstrip the benefits delivered by alternative methods such as paper or bar code scanning and work well with complementary new technologies like RFID, helping eradicate the inefficiencies created by manual processes. This ultimately has a positive impact on the whole supply chain and enables customers to build a competitive advantage over their industry rivals whilst improving accuracy, productivity, compliance management, safety, and customer satisfaction.



Greg Tanner is managing director of Vocollect Europe, the global leader in voice technology and the growing range of industrial applications that put voice to work. Since 1987, Vocollect, Inc. has delivered dramatic improvements in productivity, accuracy, cost reduction and worker satisfaction for mobile employees. Vocollects voice-directed work applications literally talk people through their daily tasks, replacing traditional work lists and cumbersome data capture methods with personal voice dialogs. The companys global network of resellers and supply chain performance experts enables more than 100,000 people on six continents to use voice to improve work every day.

INFORMATION: Free information is available from VOCOLLECT on the subject in this story. Click here to request a copy

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