Covid-19 has severely affected global supply chains. Especially the breakdown of belly freight led to a massive shortage of capacities. In turn, proven transport routes were overloaded
and disrupted the supply chains. However, massive delays are no option for pharma logistics. Essential medicine always needs to be available. So the challenge for companies in this field was even
Andreas Seitz, Managing Director at DoKaSch Temperature Solutions, a provider of temperature-controlled packaging solutions, gives his insight into the current situation and explains how cooperation and flexibility ensured stable supply chains.
The crisis began with a sudden shutdown of flight operations, leading to an unprecedented and highly chaotic situation for air cargo in the following weeks, followed by a slow step-by-step
stabilization on a significant lower level in cargo capacity. Measures such as the conversion of passenger planes to semi-freighters, and the fact that productions rates were dropping globally,
relieved the overall situation to a certain extent.
However, the same could not be said for pharmaceutical products. They are always in high demand, even more so during a fast-spreading pandemic. Fact is that everyone along the pharmaceutical supply chain had to break new ground. The biggest challenge was caused by the disruption of established transport routes. Usually, pharmaceutical goods are transported on scheduled flights. Although during the current crisis leading to the breakdown of passenger flights, those were and still are not sufficiently available. Instead, charter operations became an important pillar for air cargo operations, filling the capacity gap to a certain degree. According to our experience, the pharmaceutical companies and their forwarders very quickly moved into the crisis mode because the global supply of medicines and active pharmaceutical ingredients is the top priority for everyone, and transports had to happen under all circumstances.
The need for new transport solutions
However, despite the quick adaption to a new reality, the use of charter flights and the lack of temperature-regulated warehousing capacities posed a new problem. In many cases, transports took longer than usual, and packages had to be stored at airports for longer periods. In turn, pharmaceutical companies had to use higher quality transport solutions to guarantee that their cargo stayed in the required temperature range between 2°C and 8°C. In many cases, this meant switching from passive solutions to active ones like our Opticooler. These can keep the necessary temperature range indefinitely, as long as they are connected to a power source. Accordingly, they could even serve as small and temporary warehouses. This makes them much more flexible to use.
Nonetheless, switching to other solutions requires a lot of adaptation. Pharmaceutical companies have to certify new solutions for their transports. In addition to that, charter flights are often scheduled ad-hoc and need to be loaded with a much higher amount of pharmaceutical goods because they are often chartered for that purpose only. Providers like DoKaSch TS had to supply a much higher number of containers at once. Additionally, the general demand for pharma air cargo has increased because other transport modes were less available. However, thanks to higher throughput rates in our facilities and extensive backup stocks, we were able to fulfill all requests. Furthermore, our well-established network helped us to navigate through the crisis.
New network partners despite the global crisis
According to our perception, everyone along the pharmaceutical supply chain is aware of the great responsibility to guarantee patient care at all times. That goes for airlines, producers and, of course, solution providers like us. For example, we reacted generously in cases where airlines were not able to return our containers within the agreed rental period or when trips had to be diverted because of a lack of flight capacity. In return, the airlines put all necessary effort into returning empty containers in time to avoid any disruptions in the supply chain.
During the crisis, we kept working on improving our network and established two new Master Rental Agreements. Recently, Korean Air Cargo joined our network and shortly before that, United Cargo started cooperating with us. In times where many airlines are struggling, this shows how much effort everyone is putting into keeping the supply chains intact. I hope that this level of cooperation continues and improves after the crisis and combined efforts will remain the first priority for everyone.
We thank Andreas Seitz for his contribution, allowing a better understanding of pharma supplies in demanding times. HS
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