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The importance of high-quality air logistics for life sciences in Puerto Rico

November 6, 2023
The importance of high-quality air logistics for life sciences in Puerto Rico image

What are the complexities of distribution and logistics for life science shipments to and from the island? How do life science companies set high standards of quality, safety, and security?


Puerto Rico: a world-renowned life science hub

Puerto Rico remains strong in life sciences, exporting its products to more than 80 countries. The island has a strong life science cluster with seven of the world’s top 10 medical device companies and 15 of the world’s top 20 Class 3 manufacturers. On the island, 90% of the world’s pacemakers are produced. As a result, Puerto Rico has one of the highest concentrations of medical device expertise (5.5x the USA’s national average).


Life science logistics is all about quality

Life science companies understand the complexities of distribution and logistics of life science products to and from Puerto Rico. The recently launched Puerto Rico Life Science Air Cargo Community informs and (if necessary) trains logistics companies to ensure the highest standards of quality, safety, and security in distribution on par with international standards. In this article, we have some questions and answers around quality for logistics.


How do you build a robust supply chain?

How do you build an agile and resilient supply chain for life science products in Puerto Rico? Especially at a time when disruptions like COVID-19 and natural disaster events are happening? The short answer is to build a strong relationship with your customers and suppliers and try to understand their needs and challenges.

If you look at Puerto Rico’s life science logistics network, one can choose state-of-the-art warehouses, truckers, forwarders, integrators, and other third-party service providers across the island. If, however, you want to have good logistics, one should agree that these warehouses and distribution centers are 100% compliant in terms of safety, quality, and regulations. Ideally, you also want to agree that they are future-ready and able to handle any customer demand in the long term. The way to do this is to communicate about all aspects of safety, quality, and regulations. You can achieve this by not only performing as defined in the contract but also by talking about business.

Ideally, you want to have a business relationship in which you are open about your expectations, the performance of your operations, future developments, and the challenges you face in improving your organization.


Key-quality component: having a business continuity plan (BCP) in place. What is it?

A key aspect that contributes to having a very agile and resilient supply chain is to have a robust business continuity plan (BCP) in place. Having a BCP enables an organization to continue to perform critical business functions, even in the case of disruptions such as hurricanes or the COVID-19 pandemic. Business continuity management is an instrument that any organization should have.

Creating a BCP involves gathering a team, studying all major risks and key tasks, then choosing recovery activities. Following this, write the plan as a set of lists and guidelines that may address risks such as hurricanes, electricity fallout, floods, pandemics, or data breaches. You do not need to write a long essay; it is probably best to create a simple plan, break everything down into three key categories such as: people, places, and goods. If you focus on a couple of key pieces you will be a lot more effective. You need a couple of clear guidelines to know what to do in each situation: what are the triggers for deciding you are in a crisis and that you need to stop with your regular work and focus on ABC? Such a business continuity plan is also something in which you can involve your customers and suppliers.


Key-quality component for life science companies: end-to-end visibility. What is it?

In the past, everyone optimized data and information for themselves. One had to work across the supply chain to know about your shipments. This meant working with suppliers, your inventory staff, looking at the fulfilment network etc. One combined different data from different actors. That was the past. Nowadays, life science companies want to be able to look across the end-to-end so that when something changes, there is a disruption, or there is less demand, they know how the ripple effect is going to happen across the whole supply chain. This way of operating enables life science companies to be more responsive. They can be more agile and better meet the goal of delivering on the day that they have committed to. Inventory management can be done more efficiently. Finally, having end-to-end visibility means less calling and less communication with partners in the supply chain.


Key-quality component: end-to-end visibility. What can partners do?

End-to-end supply chain visibility is about transparency at all stages of the supply chain. From procurement to goods picking, through trucking and airport handling to delivery of finished goods to customers. This transparency is made possible by carefully monitoring each step of the process, capturing all related data, and organizing it in a centralized data management space where it can be reviewed, analyzed, and, in time, mined for actionable insights that improve business processes, financial planning, and strategic decision-making.

Logistic service providers should invest in visibility tools like handheld scanners and cameras, in track and trace capability, and in having the right datasets, connections, and platforms to make such available for life science companies and their logistics management representatives.


How do life science manufacturers procure logistics services?

What are some of the boxes that life science companies check before appointing a third-party service provider partner? A typical process goes as follows. The procurement team goes to the market and gets data that they feel is appropriate for their business. The first process is that they float a request for information (“RFI”). In an RFI one can ask about performance and delivery times. One can also ask about safety and quality capabilities, as life science companies typically deal with temperature-controlled products and other types of goods that require sensitive handling. Hence, its important for life science companies to understand the background on how well logistic service providers handle the products. All this information will, for the most part, be captured in standard operating procedures (SOP). Most of the time the financial background has been checked by the procurement team for the last few years. Skilled manpower is a priority as they will be handling life science products. Technology is important. What is the experience in handling ERP systems and knowledge of automation?

Once the RFI data is gathered, all RFI participants are shortlisted and provided with a rating. As the top ones are identified, a request for quotation (“RFQ”) is floated. Then commercials are discussed, and an agreement including an SOP is finalized.

Sometimes, SOPs can be in the form of a certification by the life science manufacturer. This can be a lengthy effort.


Life science manufacturers and truckers

Truckers are a scarce source for manufacturers in Puerto Rico. Maintaining them as suppliers often involves training them well to ensure that truckers know what to do and stay with the manufacturer. There are many things we can do to maintain quality, security, and safety levels such as training, education, and awareness.

It is also about load security and how to stack products properly. Truckers should ensure that the stacking has been done correctly and that material compatibility has been fully followed. Finally, the manufacturer needs to be informed at defined key moments. Like mentioned previously, this cooperation starts with the procurement process but should be managed properly over time. The manufacturer-trucker relationship is an important business relationship that should have sustained investment.


Life science manufacturers and logistics service providers

The relationship between the two should be developed step-by-step over time. In all these collaborative efforts, one can enhance performance gradually, be it sustainability targets, performance targets, or cost reductions.

As leaders in this industry, how do you ensure that the above topics are important values for individuals, for society, and instilled in the minds of the team that works with you, even as you constantly involve these values in your daily life? Your team is the most important asset in any organization. Should you want to internalize and sustain focus on safety, quality, and sustainability, it needs to trickle down from top. One aspect that should help is to encourage employees to participate in operational excellence activities such as continuous improvement programs. One can encourage employees to come up with any small improvement that they feel can bring about a change in the warehouse, the trucking operation, or anything else. It may not necessarily contribute to huge cost savings, but taking more ownership improves the quality of the operation. Reward and recognition are key aspects of this. People need to be recognized, not only monetarily, but also through appreciation.


Quality initiatives throughout the community

As part of ongoing efforts to improve quality throughout the region’s bioscience logistics sector, the website will feature a dedicated ‘quality’ section.

The aim of this section is to encourage and support members of the community in the Center of Excellence for Independent Validators (CEIV) training and certification program. As stated before, this program is offered by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and is the gold standard for excellence in pharmaceuticals handling.

Another area of the ‘quality’ section of the site is the new community ‘learning hub’ which will provide insights into how community members and service providers can improve the quality of their operations.

It will contain discussions, presentations, and workshops.

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