The future of the time-critical supply chain? Standardisation and Communication.

  • The future of the time-critical supply chain? Standardisation and Communication.

Tracking the transportation process of perishable commodities from the time it leaves the manufacturer to the time it reaches the end consumer is an extremely complicated process.

Factors including the number of consignment carriers, the number of elements in the supply chain, red tape and storage facilities, coupled with unforeseen hold-ups at distribution hubs and on major cargo routes can all lead to huge volumes of wastage. Here’s part of the problem. The supply chain is often composed of four elements: the company that forwards the goods to the airport, the forwarding agent that organises the global air transport on behalf of the shippers, the airline flying the cargo and the handling agent that works on behalf of the airline and arranges the physical transportation process. In addition to these four stages there’s often a disconnect between the expectations and requirements of shippers and the quality of service provided by different logistics service providers within the air cargo supply chain. Shippers are not always getting the quality of service they expect, resulting in high risk and frequent temperature excursions.

If a product is exposed to temperature variation or inappropriate storage it can often damage the product as well as the reputation of the shipper. And in a competitive marketplace (with competition from shipping and road transport) that’s an unacceptable risk.

Medicines and vaccines are perhaps the most vital of all perishables, and in the air cargo industry that was recognised at a very early stage. For several years pharmaceutical shippers have been looking at solutions and alternatives and shifting some of their volume to other modes of transport. However, in 2014 Brussels Airport partnered with IATA (International Air Transport Association) to create the Centre of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) in pharmaceutical logistics, a global quality standard based on good distribution guidelines. Today, CEIV is the most widely recognised certification of its type in the world.

It’s based on two elements: education and the standardisation of process, and although the steps towards certification can be rather complex (sometimes taking 6-9 months to complete) it's set a standard which is being quickly adopted and applied by carriers right across the globe.

However as with all industrial standards there was a potential for a lack of communication between the different entities of the supply chain, so to counter this a new association was created called Pharma.Aero, where the emphasis was firmly on collaboration and best practice rather than membership numbers or the quality of food offered at the AGM.

Since then the association has started to change the mindset of those within the supply chain, and the levels of waste are decreasing significantly. Not only that but airports are taking advantage of the situation, with Changi seeing its pharmaceutical traffic increase by 19% year-on-year over the first 9 months of 2016, due mainly to the efforts to improve the airport’s local pharma handling standards.

The creation of CEIV standards coupled with the work of Pharma.Aero (and others) has transformed the landscape of the air freight supply chain. There’s better communication, more streamlined working and more understanding which has led to less waste, less lost time and improved efficiency. Of course, this isn’t the ‘full stop, happy ever after’ scenario. The message still needs to be delivered to many more in the supply chain, particularly the smaller forwarders / operators who may not have the infrastructure or resource to meet the standards required, so a solution needs to be considered for those guys. However, what it demonstrates is that regardless of how big or small the supply chain might be, shippers, forwarders and final milers need to work collaboratively to common standards if waste is to be minimised and operational efficiency maximised, regardless of whether you’re transporting Benadryl or Bananas.

If you're looking for support or guidance for your supply chain we can help. We provide practical advice and products to ensure you stay fit and lean, and we can work with your suppliers or forwarders to improve communication and profit margins. Get in touch today to find out what we can do for you!