Inside Logistics

Automation for pharmaceutical shipments

Order verifier satisfies track and trace requirements


September 8, 2015
by Robyn Schmitt

Order-Verifier---2New US mandates for the distribution of pharmaceutical products will require high-speed camera-based scanning, integrated with automated labeling to efficiently track and trace the shipments. This results from requirements for real-time data capture of SKU lot codes, and soon, full serialization traceability of product movement across the entire supply chain.

To help manage these requirements, SSI Schaefer has developed the first automated solution to verify and document orders prior to shipping, the SSI Order Verifier. Products in an order are identified, counted, verified, photographed and documented in one integrated process.

The new system allows pharmaceutical wholesalers to meet the legal track and trace requirements regarding documentation of shipped products, including batch tracing, proving the origin of the shipped goods.

“The bulk of pharmaceutical orders, both prescription (RX) and over-the-counter (OTC) products, are packed in small quantities, and delivered for individual drug stores, hospitals and healthcare centres,” said Ross Halket, executive director of ASD Sales for SSI Schaefer. “With a throughput of up to 6,000 items per hour and simultaneous photographic documentation, the SSI Order Verifier presents the most cost-efficient, automated order verification solution to handle these split-case orders.”

Incoming order totes are automatically unloaded onto a conveyor, and the items are separated using a system of variable-speed conveyors. At an adjacent reading station the individual articles are scanned and photographically documented. The system recognizes 1D bar codes and/or 2D data matrix codes, and RFID. The articles are then batched together again to consolidate the order for shipping.

Key functions of the SSI Order Verifier include:
• The order totes are automatically uploaded by a tilt device. The system will accept to up to 300 totes per hour;
• Handles cubic products up to a weight of 2.2 pounds;
• Up to 6,000 items per hour using variable-speed conveyors;
• 1D bar codes and/or 2D data matrix codes, and RFID readout with a 6-side scan;
• Each item is photographed to verify having been shipped.
• Automated reconciliation of items for customer orders before shipping;
• Any “no-read” products are separated to reduce the manual check times. For example, only wrong products require checking, no need to manually rescan the entire order to define the bad reads.

Although the SSI Order Verifier is particularly adapted for track and trace of pharmaceutical products, it can easily be adapted for use with other cubic-shaped product types.

Case study
The mail-order pharmacy Aponeo, in Berlin, provides patients throughout Germany with prescription and non-prescription medications, dietary supplements, contact lenses, cosmetics and wellness products. Since 2006, the company’s customer base has grown from 40,000 to 850,000, handling over 140,000 SKUs, and shipping 4,000 packages each day containing over 20,000 items. To handle this exponential growth Aponeo automated its distribution process for the checking and sorting of batch units by implementing the SSI Order Verifier.

“Besides being price driven, our clients want a large product assortment and fast delivery,” said Patrick Luig technical director at Aponeo. “It is virtually impossible to carry all products on-site, so we order our slow-movers and medium-movers on demand from our wholesalers. We get about 80 percent of our orders from wholesalers on demand. We then integrate these with our fast-moving SKUs that we keep in inventory to make-up our customer orders. This process of integrating items, and still guaranteeing next-day delivery and even same-day delivery in Berlin, has been a challenge for us that we were able to solve with the order verifier.”

Aponeo workers manually empty totes received from the wholesalers onto a V-shaped conveyor. The speed of the conveyor allows for product separation, and once the articles have been separated each individual item is scanned from all sides and photo-documented. The articles are then automatically directed to one of 12 sorter slots with order-specific totes below. Workers place these pre-sorted batch totes onto an automated trolley, which takes them to the picking area where the inventoried fast-movers are integrated into the tote-batched orders. Then workers pack the patient-ready orders for shipping.

Before the order verifier, every article was scanned manually, which took two to three seconds per item. Now, Aponeo is running at 0.8 seconds per item.
The system cut lead times by 50 percent, Luig said, and allows for almost 100 percent order accuracy. As a bonus, the system is compact, taking only 500 square feet of the DC floor.

“Additionally, since our system can now scan 1D and 2D data matrix codes, we are totally set up to be compliant with the upcoming industry documentation and verification regulations,” he concluded.