The pharmaceutical industry is strictly regulated to ensure the safe delivery of medicines and healthcare products. This makes it a very challenging industry when we talk about shipping and logistics.
There are many useful applications of robotics in the pharmaceutical industry, including assembly of medical devices, filling and sealing of drug products, and maintenance of test equipment machines. However, palletizing is often one of the best first automation projects in the pharmaceutical industry, because it is easy to use and can have a quick turnaround time. And that can directly affect your logistics.
Palleting is a key step in ensuring the integrity of your product during shipment. If you use the wrong type of pallets, pack them incorrectly, or fail to meet the required regulations, you could jeopardize the entire shipment.
In this article, we explore how pharmaceutical companies can use robotic palletizing to meet shipping regulations and help make their end-of-line processes more efficient.
Why regulation is key in pharmaceutical logistics
The pharmaceutical industry is notoriously slow to adopt new technologies due to strict regulations that affect almost all aspects of the business.
The specific regulations governing the logistics of your pharmaceutical company will depend on your location in the world.
For example, Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are a set of regulations that apply to European and American pharmaceutical companies, among other things. GMP dictates that you must ensure the quality and safety of your products at all stages of production, including during transport and storage.
The reason for this profound regulation is obvious: the quality of pharmaceutical products directly affects people’s health. In other industries, say the consumer goods industry, the impact of poor quality tends to be smaller than in the pharmaceutical industry.
Logistics is key for many reasons, such as:
Orders that are delivered late or that are damaged can prevent patients from receiving potentially life-saving products.
Products that are poorly packaged or shipped can compromise the effectiveness or safety of that product in ways that may not be obvious (such as shipping the product at the wrong temperature).
Poor product tracking can mean that the wrong product is sent to a medical institution.
By improving your delivery process – such as by adding robotic pallet manufacturing – You can reduce this risk, helping you comply with relevant regulations for your business.
Cold chain in pharmaceutical logistics
One of the most important aspects of logistics for pharmaceutical companies is the “cold chain” concept. It plays an important role in shipping temperature controlled products safely.
Cold chain management involves a range of strategies, practices and technologies for transporting and storing perishable goods, such as biopharmaceuticals. It is very important to maintain the integrity of products, such as vaccines and medicines.
In order to stay compliant with regulatory standards, you must ensure that your perishable products remain in a temperature controlled environment without interruption throughout the product journey from manufacture to finally dispensing to patients.
How automated palletizing can help meet pharmaceutical packaging requirements
The challenge with cold chain packaging is that cold warehouses are not a comfortable environment for human workers. Working long hours in cold rooms can be detrimental to people’s health and reduce their job satisfaction.
Danger for people working in cold warehouse including physical discomfort, numbness of the limbs and hands, impaired physical and mental functioning, and life-threatening hypothermia.
By automating the palletizing process, you can help reduce this risk to workers.
Other benefits associated with automated palletizing for pharmaceutical logistics include:
Improved pallet load consistency — Manual palletizing does not guarantee optimal palletized load weight distribution, which can lead to product instability and damage. Automated solutions are prepared the same way every time.
Better use of human labor — In many parts of the world, it is difficult to find people willing to work in any field of packaging and logistics, let alone in cold environments.
Faster turnaround time — The increased productivity and consistency that can come with robot palletizing means you can ship your product more quickly and reliably. In a time-sensitive industry like pharmaceuticals, this can be a competitive advantage for your company.
For a list of additional benefits of palletizing robots for pharmaceutical companies, see our previous post.
Key elements of a successful robotic palletizing process
What aspects of a robotic palletizing solution are most important when product integrity is your primary concern?
Some elements to look for in a solution include:
Could be easy to integrate and operate without much robotics expertise on your team.
It can handle the size and weight of the product box you use.
It can reach the height needed to stack entire boxes.
You can integrate it with any tracking technology required for product traceability.
The solution provider understands the palletizing industry and has a history of working with pharmaceutical companies.
You may also have other elements that are essential to your specific logistics process. The best way to ensure that a particular solution will meet those needs is to contact the provider and inquire about your requirements.
Is robot palletizing the right solution to ensure the integrity of your product
When your pharmaceutical products are in high demand, it can be difficult to distribute them efficiently while still meeting logistical regulations.
Robotic palletizing solutions can be the perfect solution to quickly reduce the bottlenecks around palletizing. This can help make the job of your palletizing worker more satisfying while increasing the consistency of the palletizing steps.
Of course, many aspects of the pharmaceutical manufacturing process will affect product integrity. Palleting will only affect those related to shipping. However, adding a robot can be a quick win for many companies so it makes sense to explore whether it might work for your pharmaceutical company.