“The way India is developing as a Manufacturing Hub and being looked at as an alternate destination to our large neighbour, Supply Chain function has and will have to play a paramount role to make this happen. Importance of having a resilient and reliable supply chain function has been realized across the industries and governments across the globe,” asserts Nikunj Desai, Head Global Supply Chain, ACG Group.
Pharma companies deal with this constant battle of managing demand-supply chain balance. What are the challenges that come in your way in managing the same?
We are the world’s second largest capsules maker, pharma packing supplier as well as manufacturing diverse pharma machineries. Many of our products are used during manufacturing of Covid related drugs as well as many lifesaving drugs and nutraceuticals for boosting immunity. Keeping the supplies going at all the times, both outbound and inbound to cater to this global requirement is inevitable. Larger purpose of our organization is “Making the world Heathier Together”. We are committed to the same at all the times. We have 14 global manufacturing locations with finished product supplies to 70+ countries and material sourcing from suppliers spread in 20+ counties across the globe right from East in Japan to West in the US. As a result, the Covid scenario affects the supply chain both in terms of demand and supply whenever any of the global pocket develops any concern. Demand/Supply Patterns have changed in terms of products adding to unpredictability. Adding to above challenge is the uncertainty in the shipping industry causing delays and cost escalations.
Talking specifically about supply chain complexities, these are some of the most challenging ones:
- Supplier and company team members getting affected with Covid
- Lockdowns at various locations in the globe
- Port congestions and uncertainties in shipping industries
- Changes in demand and supply patterns
- Fluctuations in commodity prices and Foreign Exchange rates
- Fuel Prices hike
While there are myriad challenges, the pharmaceutical sector has been registering a very healthy growth since last few years and this trend is expected to continue. Besides, our organization is growing rapidly both organically and inorganically, hence we have to keep up to the pace with this momentum to meet the supply chain demands.
What are the USPs of ACG supply chain?
a. During Pandemic which suddenly struck the world, we did not lose a single minute of production across all our global locations.
b. Our supplies and vehicles were waiting outside the customer premises even before they could start their factories.
c. Despite all the fluctuations in demand and supply, we could meet our customer expectations and OTDIF.
d. We have set of global suppliers meticulously qualified by our quality team who feed us raw materials across the globe.
e. We have proven to be a reliable partner to our customers in the difficult time, and this was ensured by having a reliable and resilient supply chain.
How do pharma companies manage such abrupt or sudden surge in demand of some medical products in the wake of a deadly disease outburst?
I can speak for myself and initiatives our organization has taken… We have instituted Scenario Management Strategy and Plan B. From last year, we developed few likely scenarios that could cause supply disruptions both inbound and outbound and have run simulations. Also, if such scenario arises, what would be the template to handle the same. This has been made ready and shared across the board.
All the suppliers have been categorized into different zones. Plan B has been put in place for each critical supplier including stocks at different points in supply chain. Geographical de-risking has been the focus area, which we have been working since last few years, which has paid us dividends now. We also monitor all our suppliers’ capacity almost on a weekly basis and check their manpower status and well-being continuously. We extend them all the support needed to keep them engaged in these difficult times.
There are constant reviews happening internally along with our supplier-partners to sense the situation and during these reviews, all the decisions on ramp-up and ramp-down on production/supplies are taken. We are supporting all our supplier-partners and service-partners so that they are fighting fit in this pandemic. With all these measures, we are ready with the solutions to accept the challenges which our pharma customers could face, and we are available to support them as needed.
ACG boasts of an exceptionally big manufacturing set up and as big warehousing network. How do you ensure that the products reach every nook & corner of the country in the safest way?
We have Track and Trace system installed in all our vehicles and dispatches moving out of our premises. Because of which, we can monitor each vehicle real-time and keep a track on its location, temperature, etc. Software is configured such that we can also monitor speed of the vehicle and whether its engine is working or switched off. All our routes are geofenced. Any deviation, in any of the above parameters would initiate an alert at our end as well as at the transporter’s end. We have given access of this systems to our transporters who have installed 24x7 Control tower with escalation matrix. All this helps in monitoring the goods and adhere to the Good Distribution Practices. We are further enhancing this system to incorporate some more new developments.
How is technology playing its part in efficient handling of goods during transit? Please enlighten us on the recent Blockchain innovation ACG has made?
ACG Inspection – one of the four businesses of ACG Group – has introduced an advanced blockchain-based solution that meets and exceeds traceability and anti-counterfeiting requirements in the pharmaceutical supply chain. The company’s Brand Security Platform combines GS1 2D Data Matrix, smart contracts, geolocation identification and product biometrics tracking to ensure the whereabouts and contents of packaged medicines are tightly monitored through their entire supply chain journey from manufacturer to end user.
The comprehensive new system provides a seamless, uncompromisingly transparent experience to all stakeholders along the supply chain, simplifying the overall process through distributed ledger technology and single ownership. It is designed to overcome several longstanding obstacles to advanced traceability, including the challenges of establishing single-owner data sets, and the prevalence of digitally broken supply chains stemming from, among other issues, struggles with GS1 universality, personnel error and new business models disrupting traditional procedures.
ACG Inspection’s solution has three primary components, each of which can be incorporated individually or bundled per customer needs. The customizable products also are scalable, amounting to geolocation solutions that can provide everything from basic data management to full-scale, supply chainwide transparency.
BLOCKCHAIN: With Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) and smart contracts, all medicines and buyers, sellers, logistics partners and manufacturers are registered to one network, making it impossible for outsiders to manipulate the supply chain at any point without detection.
INTERNET OF THINGS (IOT): All participants in the delivery chain can be connected to the network using any GS1- compatible application, such as the ACG Inspection mobile application, the ACG Inspection web platform, or any other application integrated into the ACG Inspection platform. ACG Inspections Geo Location and product biometrics trackers tagged to the products always provide all the data required for monitoring the location information and biometrics of the package.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI): Participants can be alerted in real-time regarding any temperature breach if the temperature of the medicine/drug rises above or falls below the desired threshold level, Geo-Fencing breach, or any deviation in the route planning, enabling real-time decisions. If the steady stream of data determines unacceptable deviations, the corresponding package is automatically invalidated.
Combined, these elements lead to a supply chain setup with unsurpassed traceability and transparency. Upon obtaining a unique serial number, QR Code or datamatrix for each package, the manufacturer scans the codes to initiate the track & trace process. From that point forward, the system’s trackers continuously monitor and transmit data concerning the package’s temperature, humidity and location and any other parameter that is configured. Data also is analyzed to ensure compliance with various domestic and/or international mandates.
Throughout, real-time data is available to platform users via a dashboard, a unified space for clear and easy access to pertinent information. When the package eventually reaches the end user, the receiving party can validate the drug prior to purchase by scanning its code with a POS scanner. Once the final transaction occurs, relevant data is immutably stored in a digital ledger for reporting or recall purposes.
The new solution is part of ACGI’s VeriShield suite of services – which, in combination with its QualiShield portfolio, encompasses the full gamut of pharma serialization needs through turnkey compliance with current and pending track & trace mandates in countries across the globe. VeriShield offers serialization and aggregation solutions for cartons and bottles at the primary, secondary, and tertiary packaging levels. QualiShield is a complementary, extensive range of high accuracy camera inspection solutions for pharma doses, labels, and cartons to help pharma companies consistently deliver best-possible products.
How is the cold chain scenario shaping up in the country, more so in tune with the life-saving drug delivery?
Currently this is in a developing stage in our country. However, this will catch up fast and take appropriate shape given the scenario of vaccine delivery, which is imperative looking at the Covid scenario. However, the challenges lie in the last mile delivery (especially in rural/remote areas) and ensuring the temperature monitoring and consistency throughout the chain.
What are the safety and security concerns that need attention and how can they be addressed?
As mentioned above, the challenges lie in storage, transportation and especially the last mile delivery and ensuring the temperature monitoring and consistency throughout the chain. There are technologies available to monitor the same. Conventional supply chains are linear, where the information is available in separate batches/clusters residing separately, not allowing the supply chain participants to inform each other in real-time. This discrete progression (design, plan, source, make, and deliver) of the Supply Chain leads to increased transaction costs, latency issues, cascading of inefficiencies, loss of products, counterfeiting and delayed Action-Reaction process. Digitally broken supply chains deprive organizations of gaining any insights into the customer demand patterns and risks in the supply chain.
Our new solution of ACG Inspection, would help the manufacturers to transform their conventional supply chains into agile, dynamic, and interconnected ones, that would enable a seamless flow of information, make the supply network flexible to accommodate ecosystem partners ultimately helping them build predictive and secure networks.
ACG Inspection envisions to secure end-to-end global supply chains. This enables manufacturers to make digitally interconnected supply chains an integral part of their business strategy.
At larger level, Track & Trace system and Serialization in pharma supply chain from Primary, Secondary and Tertiary level is what needs to be introduced to ensure the safety concerns. Product level temperature sensing labels are also being widely used today. Apart from that, control tower to monitor the transportation is needed till the last mile level.
As a young leader, how do you motivate your team members? What is your success mantra?
We continuously meet/review and address various challenges of team members whether professional or personal. Every last Friday of the month, we have an hour-long meeting just for general discussion and fun, where we celebrate birthdays, achievements, and just have general conversation. Everyone’s safety is paramount, and we have restricted their travel as much as possible. Even for travelling, we insist that everyone travels in own/single vehicle and not a shared vehicle even if going to the same destination.
Personal support to team members whenever they have fallen sick or any of their family members needed medicine or hospital beds. We always had their back in times of need. Also, our able HR/Admin team supported in enabling this. During Pandemic, I kept everyone charged with a motto that we are serving the pharma sector whose services are most important today. Let us do our best so that we can help the medicines reach the patients. You never know which of your actions saved how many lives. These lines connected every team member including our suppliers and service providers. Even drivers of trucks could relate to this request. Everyone had a larger purpose to operate and strive for doing their best.
I always tell our team that SCM is like what an Army is to its nation. Some day you fight in desert, some days on land and some days in snow. We must be always on our toes like an Army is always ready to protect our nation’s turf and fight the new battles/challenges which we encounter. In general, I have a belief that if my team is successful, then I will be successful. My job is to make my people successful and create environment where they can thrive. In following this belief, I am sure they too feel motivated enough when they see this happen.
Where do you see supply chain playing its part in shaping up and strengthening Indian economy for the next decade?
The way India is developing as a Manufacturing Hub and being looked at as an alternate destination to our large neighbor, Supply Chain function has and will have to play a paramount role to make this happen. Importance of having a resilient and reliable supply chain function has been realized across the industries and governments across the globe. Thanks to PLI schemes being launched by the government and realization of the geographical de-risking aspects by all global players, as India leverages this scenario to leap ahead into playing a larger role and becoming a global manufacturing hub, then definitely that dream will be built only with the supply chain function doing the heavy lifting.