Automated Material Handling Technology Transforming Healthcare Supply Chain

Automated materials handling and data collection systems are transforming the healthcare supply chain to a great extent.  Raw materials, parts, components and finished goods are handled inside the four walls of all the industrial facilities. In fact, many organizations that have never considered themselves as supply chain organizations have increasingly been looking for the best practices to improve their materials handling equipment and technologies. This step in just to enhance the quality of their operations carried out in the organization, which aren’t entirely industrial. They are working towards reducing their labor costs while improving their facility’s operational accuracy and turnaround times simultaneously.

Many manufacturers and distributors of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and supplies have long been using the materials handling automation and technologies in performing their industrial operations.

Today, even large hospitals are adopting supply chain technologies so as to ensure a smooth flow of materials/operations inside healthcare facilities. These technologies include the use of automatic guided vehicles (AGVs), mini-load automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) and horizontal carousels to serve the purpose of moving goods and managing warehouse systems (WMS) to monitor the delivery of materials directly to the patients in the hospitals.

Although hospitals are increasingly integrating automated technology into the healthcare supply chain, there are still two distinct jobs to this entire material handling process. One is taking care of manufacturing/distribution facilities and the other is healthcare facilities. Each one of these works have their own set of challenges associated with materials handling best practices.

The healthcare products’ manufacturers and distributors have to maintain quality and accuracy as well as control costs just like all the other manufacturers and distributors in every other industry. The only difference that lies here is the degree of regulation that the providers of health care products are confronted with.

Lately, the regulatory requirements are on the rise, for which the manufacturers and the distributors are required to provide an audit trail of all the processes or operational effort that is gone into the manufacturing of a product along with a record of the supply chain process.

What is important is that the companies that are regulated by the FDA should be capable of providing numbers associated with visibility into the components, parts, and materials that go into the manufacturing process. They must provide track-and-trace visibility across the supply chain in case of a recall. Similarly, to get a medical device, new drug or other regulated health care product approved for production, the supply chain processes must get validated by the manufacturers.

In an organization, one should be capable of charting out their supply chain and present the same to the respective authorities. And this purely to prove their processes have met all the required quality standards. Now, this is exactly where automation comes into play. Quality is now being associated with being up to mark only when an organization has adopted all the required automated machinery to manage its operations and supply chain. In fact, the AGVs, horizontal carousels, and mini-load automated storage systems are used for this very purpose and are considered to be clean, accurate and efficient.

Demonstrating that a healthcare organization having good control over their processes has always been difficult and with the use of automated material handling equipment and storage and retrieval device, presenting this information is no longer an issue.

As known, automation removes the human element from the equation. When one is using automated materials handling equipment, they are collecting information at every step of the process, which in turn can be used for the validation process.

Just as retailers are investing in automation to make smaller and more frequent deliveries, the health care industry is also working towards adopting methods to improve the distribution process of their products. The healthcare industry has always been able to deliver the right product to the right place at the right time. And the hospitals that have started realizing the need for automation in their supply chain software, can cut down on their cost of providing healthcare services, save lives and at the same time improve their patients’ experience.Science Articles

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