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Christmas is 'snow problem' for drug distribution

By Dan Stanton+

19-Dec-2013

One way to ensure delivery that logistics firms might consider
One way to ensure delivery that logistics firms might consider

If the Coca-Cola truck can battle the snow each Christmas so too can drug logistics firms using technology, contingency plans and sometimes a good old-fashioned shovel, distributors say.

Though snow is sold to us on Christmas paraphernalia as a romantic, cosy and exciting phenomenon, ubiquitous with scarves, mulled wine and creepy looking ‘bonhommes de neige,’ in reality it can cause delays and disruptions for all distributors apart from maybe Santa himself.

That can be frustrating when a pair of slippers sent by an elderly relative does not arrive on Christmas day, but for the millions of dollars’ worth of formulated drugs and clinical trial materials, ‘fun-filled festive precipitate’ can be an expensive and serious problem.

“Special weather conditions such as snow or ice influence the transportation of drugs quite often,” DHL spokesperson Julianne Ranft told Outsourcing-Pharma.com.

“It makes no sense to depart with a truck with high value, drugs or lifesaving products on a route where we neither can guarantee safe journey for the driver nor for the goods of our customers.”

Concerns over the life-saving nature of transported medicines were echoed by other logistics firms, with UPS’ Vice President, Global Public Affairs Chip Meyers telling us firms “need to overcome those challenges …. It’s a patient, not a package!”

However, whilst schools close at the drop of a sleet-covered hat, for drug transporters “the show definitely must go on,” said World Courier’s Technical Portfolio Manager Sue Lee, and thus a company needs to have protocols and procedures in place for such weather.

One way logistics firms take on nature is using modern technology as a preventative measure. UPS, for example has weather monitoring tech at its air bases, coupled with a tracking system “able to pinpoint specific product, on route, and therefore able to avoid problems before they occur, Meyers said.

Norwegian Would

World Courier’s Norwegian office has months of polar nights and thus views snow as more “a welcome bright blanket for the otherwise dark surroundings.” However, this poetic outlook has only been achieved through proper planning and precautions, and thus snow rarely impacts shipping handling and efficiency in Norway, Lee added.

Throughout Scandinavia, in fact, World Courier’s transporters all carry snow chains and shovels to comply with Norwegian readiness - a similar, preventative measure as occurs in Ukraine and Russia.

In fact Scandinavian carriers were cited as one option by DHL, to be commissioned in extreme cases, though it too urged prevention by checking the weather and, if needs be, proposing alternative transportation methods and discussing any risks with the customer.

Blowing Hot and Cold

If snow isn’t disrupting roads and cancelling flights, it’s only annoying everyone by making things too cold. One can’t just slap a woolly hat on a batch of prefilled syringes, and thus a logistics company must be flexible to ensure such products are held at a their constant optimum temperature, Marken told us.

The “key is to protect the product if extreme weather conditions might impact the expected turnaround time of the shipment,” said Senior VP Commercial Operations, Ariette Van Strien.

“Being able to re-route to avoid area’s affected and/or hold in case we will face a delivery issue is our strength,” she continued, adding packaging also plays its part when attempting to combat the cold.

Lapp it Up

However, one of the pernickety things about weather is it changes constantly and dramatically from region to region, and when a drug shipment needs to sit comfortably between, say, 2 and 8°C, this can be a problem.

One example World Courier’s Lee told us was moving a shipment of temperature controlled goods from Lappland to Singapore. As the shipment sat on the tarmac last Monday, the temperature was -39°C whilst at the same time the temperature at destination stood at a scorching 32°C.

“In this case the shipment was sent in VIP boxes (Vacuum Insulated Panel) with Phase Change Material temperature media to maintain this.”

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