Tuesday 13 February 2018

Ocean Transport is Gaining Momentum in Pharmaceutical Logistics

One of the biggest challenges in the pharmaceutical industry has nothing to do with the drugs themselves — it’s in getting the drugs, medications and equipment from their factories to hospitals and pharmacies around the world in a timely and cost-effective manner. Trucks work for domestic transportation but run into trouble when it comes to international transport. Planes can easily cross oceans, but the cost of loading up a cargo plane with pharmaceuticals is astronomical — a cost that is often passed along to the consumer.

A special report by Megan Ray Nichols
For these reasons, ocean transportation is growing in popularity among pharmaceutical companies around the globe. What are the pros and cons of ocean transport, and is it something that you should consider for your own logistical needs?

The Speed of Ocean Transit

One of the things that has discouraged pharmaceutical companies from utilizing ocean transport in the past is the fact that it takes a while for a cargo ship to traverse the oceans between destinations. Items that required refrigeration often couldn’t be transported by sea because of a lack of refrigeration technology in the enormous cargo containers.

While speed hasn’t changed in recent years, storage technology has advanced dramatically. Specifically, it has become easier to obtain the equipment needed to create refrigerated cargo containers, allowing even temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals to be shipped by sea without impacting the efficacy of the products.

Changes in shipping technology have enabled more and more companies to shift their shipping logistics from air to sea transport while maintaining their timelines.

Changes in Packaging and Shipping

Potential exposure to sea water and salt air is necessitating one major change — a shift from traditional wooden pallets to plastic ones.

Wooden pallets are probably the most common type of pallet used for shipping pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs and the majority of other products packed and shipped around the world. They’re popular because they’re cheap and sturdy, and they can be recycled when they start to break down. Add sea air and salt water to the mix, and these wooden pallets can become a liability, potentially breaking down faster. In addition, the humid air can encourage mold or mildew growth on the pallets themselves, creating a potential for contamination.

In the United States alone, more than two billion pallets are used every day to transport goods — and between 90 and 95 percent of them are made of wood. It stands to reason that the majority of pallets being used to ship pharmaceuticals are likely wood. If sea transit becomes the norm for pharmaceutical shipment, the use of wooden pallets could become a problem. Transitioning to molded plastic pallets, which are resistant to both weather and mold/mildew growth could help prevent this issue before it has a chance to manifest.

The Problem of Security

The pharmaceutical industry is a massive one — it’s estimated that pharmaceuticals alone make up more than $1.1 trillion in the world economy, with the number expected to grow by 2020 by 41 percent. It makes sense that this multi-billion dollar industry could potentially become the target for thieves and pirates.

Cargo theft is not a new concept — as long as there has been cargo to be transported, there have been people trying to steal it. In the past, it was on horseback and from the decks of pirate ships. Today, it’s in cars…and on the decks of more advanced pirate ships.

Keeping cargo manifests and shipping schedules secure for sea transport can help to reduce the chance of theft on the high seas, but it’s not a perfect solution. High tech solutions, such as biometric locks on shipping containers, can help make your shipments less desirable. While they can be circumvented, it takes a lot of extra steps, and it’s often not worth the effort to the potential thieves.

Tracking your shipments with technology can also help you thwart potential crime, either by discouraging thieves from committing their crime in the first place or allowing you to recover stolen goods.

Taking to the high seas isn’t just for pirates anymore. It is a fantastic way to reduce costs and keep up with your deadlines while ensuring that your products are delivered to the places that need them most.

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