How can you transport temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals through the regular parcel channel and be sure that the medication is viable when it reaches its destination? This was the challenge set for Thomas Wälchli, head of Business Development and Industry Solutions at PostLogistics, a business unit of SwissPost, and Roman Stalder, Head of Research & Development at PostLogistics. “Pharmaceutical logistics are an important business sector at Swiss Post. However, the challenge is to be compliant with EU regulations, as well as to make shipping quick, cheap and easy for pharmaceutical manufacturers and wholesalers,” Thomas Wälchli explains.
The EU guidelines of Good Distribution Practice (GDP), as well as the need to maintain certain medications at ambient temperature (15-25 degrees) or within the cold band (2-8 degrees), has forced many European postal companies to withdraw from the pharmaceuticals market, surrendering this valuable business to couriers with fleets of temperature-controlled delivery vehicles. “We knew that to reach pharmacies, doctors, and patients across all parts of Switzerland in an efficient and cost-effective manner, we needed a solution that would enable us to transport the pharmaceuticals using our nationwide mass-market parcel channel,” says Wälchli.
To address the competing goals of compliance and efficiency, Swiss Post developed a new generation of ThermoCare boxes that can be shipped in the regular parcel channel. These boxes have adaptable insulating properties, so they can be configured based on the predicted weather conditions along the transit route. As Thomas Wälchli explains, “Only a few shipments need the full thermic capacity of the boxes,” The ThermoCare passive temperature-controlled boxes are easy to handle, as well as cheap, secure, reusable, and, therefore, eco-friendly.
Image: Swiss Post’s new generation of ThermoCare boxes that can be shipped through regular post.
Of course, the challenge with a passive solution is knowing whether the medication has been maintained within the required temperature band throughout its journey. “For this, Swiss Post developed an innovative monitoring solution using blockchain and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies,” says Roman Stalder. “The best relationships are built on trust,” says Modum co-founder Marc Degen. “Providing data integrity and authenticity for global supply chain operations was the trigger to solve the business problem with a scalable, blockchain-based solution for Swiss Post.” The solution works by inserting a sensor into the ThermoCare box, which monitors the temperature of the medicine in transit. Temperature data is stored using a blockchain service, where it can be used to verify compliance by quality managers, insurers, and customers.
Swiss Post is continuing to innovate and sees – based on its pharmaceutical experience – significant potential to apply the monitoring of temperature in parcel transports in other industry sectors such as food. “For us, this is exciting, because now we have a sensor-supported service integrated into the postal logistics chain,” explains Wälchli. “So, it doesn’t matter if I deliver medicines to a doctor or deliver Swiss cheese to a household!” With its blockchain and IoT service in place, Swiss Post is ready to offer a new generation of temperature-controlled services to their customers.