It has long been a key economic factor in the pharmaceutical industry: logistics, including in-house warehousing and all the components that are used. Conveyor systems, drum motors, transport boxes & Co. must be designed for strict guidelines. In extreme cases, an efficient distribution of medicines can not only decide on life and death, but also generate decisive added value throughout the entire distribution chain.

Medicines are distributed to pharmacies and hospitals via pre-wholesale. But distribution through online pharmacies is also generating ever stronger growth. The pharmaceutical industry is geared to the highest temperature, hygiene and safety requirements throughout the entire distribution chain - from the supply of raw materials to production, storage and transport - and this applies in particular to intralogistics processes and systems.

GDP and GMP as government guidelines

As a general rule, all companies that manufacture, test, store or supply drugs and active ingredients must comply with government GDP requirements (Good Distribution Practices) and GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices). In addition, all safety and quality requirements of the respective country in which the products are used must be met. If, for example, drugs are exported to the United States, the FDA guidelines of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration must also be observed.

The GDP describes the sum of all measures that ensure that the quality and integrity of drugs is maintained by controlling the distribution chain. GMP defines all measures that ensure the quality and integrity of a drug or active ingredient during production, testing and storage.

Highest hygiene in cleanroom production

Complexity already begins at the production site: Here the standards of a clean room situation apply - an extremely clean and pressurized environment in which the complete equipment must comply with GMP requirements. In the packaging sector, the same guidelines apply, but "only" hygienic rooms under normal pressure are used.

Of course, all regulations also apply particularly to intralogistic processes. Drum motors made of stainless steel, which drive the conveyor belts, offer special advantages in hygienically highly sensitive areas: Due to their encapsulation, germs have few contact surfaces, there are no dead spaces, they are easy to clean and antistatic in order to avoid dust buildup as far as possible. The hygienic advantages over geared motors have already been confirmed in a study carried out by the Food Research Institute of the University of Parma (Italy). And what is true for the food industry in terms of hygiene is even more so for the pharmaceutical industry. 

Temperature control in intralogistic areas

Since the number of biotechnologically produced and temperature-sensitive drugs is constantly increasing, continuous temperature control is also of considerable importance. When a drug is taken, the active ingredient must not have lost its effectiveness due to undesired fluctuations.

In intralogistics, this requires multiple isolated storage and retrieval systems - often also with different temperature zones, since, for example, sera or vaccines have different requirements than simple active substances. Sealed sluice doors keep air exchange during storage and retrieval as low as possible. In addition to high-bay warehouses with space for thousands of pallets and automated small parts warehouses for packs ready for dispatch, the modern pharmaceutical distribution centre also has separately refrigerated storage rooms or lift systems with cooling or clean room functions.

Maximum transparency through Track & Trace

In order to further increase drug safety, aspects such as security against counterfeiting and measures against theft are also added. The issue of traceability plays a central role throughout the entire distribution chain - from the supply of raw materials through production to the transport of the finished drug to the end consumer. With a pick-by-light display, for example, the employee knows exactly what to pick from the supply system when picking the goods. He can also confirm the removal by hand and check the barcode using a reader.

Blockchain technology for real-time data

And because each route is unique, each medicine also has a special "fingerprint" that can be used to seamlessly track how it was transported. Thus, it is always possible to determine whether the efficacy has already been impaired in any way. The blockchain technology known from digitization and crypto currencies is a promising approach here: if all stakeholders involved in the distribution chain work with a single data record, changes can be detected almost in real time and manipulation is virtually impossible.

Clearly, no other industry has as many logistics and internal warehousing requirements as the pharmaceutical industry. From production to testing and storage to delivery, all areas require suitable solutions.

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