Top trends in enterprise labeling: Part 1
Today, there are a variety of factors impacting supply chain strategy and ultimately labeling processes. Therefore, it’s important to take a close look at what changes are driving today’s trends in labeling, which has become a mission-critical component in the supply chain as businesses continue to expand globally.
Growing customer demands and evolving regulatory requirements are just a couple of the trends which have been identified based on input from over 500 supply chain professionals, from a wide range of leading global companies, in a recent Enterprise Labeling Trends Survey.
1. Business are standardizing labeling for consistency and efficiency
As business continues to expand globally, companies are recognizing the benefits of standardizing their labeling across global supply chains. Standardizing enables labeling consistency, and dramatically streamlines maintenance and oversight, while offering the control to make rapid label changes throughout the supply chain. This standardized approach also helps global companies ensure business continuity in the face of disaster and empowers them to meet complex, global and high volume labeling demands.
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There are three important drivers behind the push to standardize:
- Providing simplified maintenance and deployment: Offering the ability to centralize and deploy a standard labeling solution provides a wide range of benefits. Rather than manage multiple different systems, this standardized approach enables companies to streamline maintenance while supporting enterprise-wide labeling changes. In addition to reducing cost and simplifying maintenance, having a single, scalable solution facilitates expansion to new global locations.
- Ensuring labeling consistency: As businesses extend their reach across the global supply chain, it’s critical they maintain labeling consistency across multiple markets and regions. By taking a standardized approach, companies can ensure that a common set of labels, centralized applications and data sources are used across the supply chain. Also, ensuring consistency helps support compliance with brand standards which can rely on labels to help businesses differentiate their products, build relationships and maintain customer’s trust regardless of where in the world labels are printed.
- Supporting business continuity: Both natural and man-made disasters can have a significant impact on a company’s supply chain and ultimately result in substantial financial consequences. Just as companies might shift production from one facility to another, a standardized approach to labeling allows them to rapidly shift label production in the same manner. By standardizing on a central labeling solution, companies can leverage the data and labels needed to keep the supply chain flowing and minimize the impact during a disruption.
2. Integrated, dynamic labeling is essential
Today’s labeling needs to be both dynamic and data-driven to meet evolving customer and regulatory standards. Customers’ labeling requirements are more demanding and variable than ever and businesses failing to meet those requirements in a timely fashion find themselves with dissatisfied customers that are likely to turn to competitors. However, certified integration to the sources of truth for label data allows companies to automate labeling processes directly from enterprise applications while ensuring label data accuracy. This approach reduces the need to maintain countless permutations of labels, enabling configurable business logic to trigger labeling and empower companies to quickly respond to evolving regulatory, language, regional, business and customer specific requirements.
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Customer responsiveness in labeling typically centers on meeting the following expectations:
- Integration with business systems is imperative: Integration models which support the seamless exchange of data and eliminate the need for manual processes allow companies to maintain their existing systems and user interactions, while automating their labeling processes and improving overall efficiency. Although on-demand printing of labels is still important for many businesses, integrating labeling with enterprise applications and existing business processes is a best practice for labeling in today’s global supply chain.
- Meeting customer and regulatory requirements: More than ever customers are imposing labeling requirements including unique formats, barcodes, logos, languages, and data attributes. Also, new standards and regulations are dictating which requirements need to be applied to labels to meet compliance. Companies are seeking the capability to meet a wide range of variable labeling requirements without forcing an overwhelming amount of manual oversight. Without the ability to meet these customer requirements, businesses are faced with costly and time-consuming relabeling, increasing fines, customer dissatisfaction and loss of business.
- Allowing rapid label changes: Today businesses must be able to respond in a timely fashion to a wide range of customer and regulatory demands. Without the ability to streamline label changes, companies will be confronted with missed delivery dates, hefty fines and dissatisfied customers. Configurable business logic allows business users to quickly and easily support new requirements, enabling label formatting and content to be changed dynamically.
3. Labeling intersects the supply chain at all levels
Labeling has become a significant consideration for supply chain activities that span from upstream production to downstream distribution and delivery of finished goods. To ensure an effective supply chain strategy, companies must consider how labeling intersects all levels of their supply chain. This is especially true with evolving demands such as globalization of manufacturing, safety and quality of products, shorter lead-times, lean business environments, and changing market dynamics. By adopting this mindset businesses are able to become more responsive and efficient throughout their supply chain.
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There are three important considerations behind labeling intersecting the supply chain:
- Increasing supply chain collaboration: Supply chain collaboration aligns processes to streamline business, allowing global companies to reduce costs and add value to partners throughout the supply chain. Collaboration allows suppliers and business partners to work together to define their requirements for labeling. This allows business partners to deliver compliant labels that are specifically designed to have the attributes, data content, formatting and symbologies needed to improve efficiency, expand productivity, increase competitive advantage and meet customer demands.
- Extending labeling for business partners and suppliers: Collaboration allows businesses connected within the supply chain to work together and extend access to labeling solutions. To engage in true collaboration, businesses must provide centralized control, allowing partners access to essential labeling capability, while ensuring that data needed for labeling is made securely accessible for label printing. This approach safeguards label accuracy and ensures adherence to corporate and brand standards.
- Reducing occurrences of mislabeling and relabeling: Adhering to standards and business requirements so that all goods are properly labeled is imperative in successfully moving product throughout the supply chain. If not, mislabeling can mean a lack of compliance and result in loss of business, costly fines or returns due to downstream processing errors. At the same time, the need to re-label can cause operational efficiency delays and downstream processing costs. However, implementing a common approach to labeling can offer consistency and minimize the need for redundant labeling processes.
The challenges to vaccine distribution affecting everyone
While it is comforting to know that vaccines against COVID-19 are showing remarkable efficacy, the world still faces intractable challenges with vaccine distribution. Specifically, the sheer number of vaccines required and the complexity of global supply chains are sure to present problems we have neither experienced nor even imagined.
Current projections estimate that we could need 12-15 billion doses of vaccine, but the largest vaccine manufacturers produce less than half this volume in a year. To understand the scale of the problem, imagine stacking one billion pennies – you would have a stack that is 950 miles high. Now, think of that times ten. This is a massive problem that one nation can’t solve alone.
Even if we have a vaccine – can we make enough? Based on current projections, Pfizer expects to produce up to 1.3 billion doses this year. Moderna is working to expand its capacity to one billion units this year. Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, is likely to produce 60% of the 3 billion doses committed by AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi. This leaves us about 7 billion doses short.
Expanding vaccine production for most regions in the world is complicated and time-consuming. Unlike many traditional manufacturing operations that can expand relatively quickly and with limited regulation, pharmaceutical production must meet current good manufacturing practice (CGMP) guidelines. So, not only does it take time to transition from R&D to commercial manufacturing, but it could also take an additional six months to achieve CGMP certification.
The problem becomes even more complex when considering the co-products required. Glass vials and syringes are just two of the most essential co-products needed to produce a vaccine. Last year, before COVID-19, global demand for glass vials was 12 billion. Even if it is safe to dispense ten doses per vial, there is certain to be significant pressure on world supply of the materials needed to package and distribute a vaccine.
It is imperative drug manufacturers and their raw material suppliers have clear visibility of production plans and raw material availability if there is any hope of optimizing scarce resources and maximising production yield.
It is widely known by now that temperature is a critical factor for the COVID-19 vaccine. Even the regions with the most developed logistics infrastructures and resources needed to support a cold-chain network are sure to struggle with distribution.
For the United States alone, State and local health agencies have determined distribution costs will exceed $8.4 billion, including $3 billion for workforce recruitment and training; $1.2 billion for cold-chain, $1 billion vaccination sites and $0.5 billion IT upgrades.
The complexity of the problem increases further when considering countries such as India that do not have cold-chain logistics networks that meet vaccine requirements. Despite India’s network of 28,000 cold-chain units, none are capable of transporting vaccines below -25°Celsius. While India’s Serum Institute has licensed to manufacture AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which can reportedly be stored in standard refrigerated environments, even a regular vaccine cold chain poses major challenges.
Furthermore, security will undoubtedly become a significant concern that global authorities must address with a coordinated solution. According to the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, theft and counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products rose nearly 70% over the past five years. As with any valuable and scarce product, counterfeits will emerge. Suppliers and producers are actively working on innovative approaches to limit black-market interference. Corning, for example, is equipping vials with black-light verification to curb counterfeiting.
Clearly, this is a global problem that will require an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination.
Disconnected information systems
While it is unreasonable to expect every country around the world will suddenly adopt a standard technology that would provide immediate, accurate and available information for everyone, it is not unreasonable to think that we can align on a standard taxonomy that can serve as a Rosetta Stone for collaboration.
A shared view of the situation (inventory, raw materials, delivery, defects) will provide every nation with the necessary information to make life-saving decisions, such as resource pooling, stock allocations and population coverage.
By allowing one central authority, such as the World Health Organization, to organize and align global leaders to a single collaboration standard, such as GS1, and a standard sharing protocol, such as DSCSA, then every supply chain participant will have the ability to predict, plan and execute in a way that maximises global health.
Political influence and social equality
As if we don’t have enough stress and churn in today’s geopolitical environment, we must now include the challenge of “vaccine nationalism.” While this might not appear to be a supply chain problem, per se, it is a critical challenge that will hinge on supply chain capabilities.
In response to the critical supply issues the world experienced with SARS-CoV-2, the World Health Organization, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) formed Covax: a coalition dedicated to equitable distribution of 2 billion doses of approved vaccines to its 172 member countries. Covax is currently facilitating a purchasing pool and has made commitments to buy massive quantities of approved vaccines when they become available.
However, several political powerhouse countries, such as the United States and Russia, are not participating. Instead, they are striking bilateral deals with drug manufacturers – essentially, competing with the rest of the world to secure a national supply. Allocating scarce resources is never easy, but when availability could mean the difference between life and death, it becomes almost impossible.
Global production, distribution and social equality present dependent yet conflicting realities that will demand global supply chains provide complete transparency and an immutable chain of custody imperative to vaccine distribution.
The technology is available today – we just need to use it. We have the ability to track every batch, pallet, box, vile and dose along the supply chain. We have the ability to know with absolute certainty that the vaccine is approved, where and when it was manufactured, how it was handled and whether it was compromised at any point in the supply chain. Modern blockchain technologies should be applied so that every nation, institution, regulator, doctor and patient can have confidence in knowing that they are making an impact in eradicating COVID-19.