Could drones be the solution for supply chain headaches in the pharmaceutical industry? – FreightWaves


Since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic health professionals are under attack. The disruptions to supply chains have hampered accessibility to all kinds of personal protection equipment to vaccines to combat COVID-related diseases and common illnesses like flu at an era when the world is in dire need of them.

Seeing those disruptions, a trio of companies — Melbourne, Australia-based Swoop Aero, London’s Skyports and Kelberg, Germany-headquartered BD Rowa — are joining forces to open up an air-based avenue for medical and pharmaceutical deliveries. The three companies revealed on Monday that they will combine the expertise of air logistics and health-related technology to bring a system of drones that deliver goods to medical supply chains.

Swoop Aero and Skyports, two of the world’s top drone manufacturers technology, are planning to integrate their products into BD Rowa’s system of automated technology that serves the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries. It includes robots that are able to automate the selection and distribution of medication. The company recently also added a last mile delivery network.

“We were impressed by Swoop Aero’s technology as well as the impact that they and Skyports were having in deploying it globally in partnership with the major players in the field of health care. It was evident from the beginning that we shared a common goal,” said Mario Ulrich who is the world’s industry leader for pharmacies and distribution centres of BD Rowa.

The technology of Swoop Aero with which Ulrich is so in love is self-piloting drones, which specialize in the delivery of contactless supplies for medicines, pathology as well as urgent blood. The drones are backed by a technology-based infrastructure that allows real-time location monitoring and temperature control in cold chain systems.

“There are a myriad of interactions along the path pharmaceutical products make starting from production until the point of treatment. Utilizing technology at any of these points can enhance the health outcomes of healthcare systems,” said Swoop Aero Co-founder and CEO Eric Peck. “By seamless connecting sustainable air logistics with the ability for medical supplies, we’ve seen significant improvement in accessibility to medical supplies by our operation.”

Watch: A true platform for drone delivery

Swoop Aero’s solution is particularly useful for accessing remote or hard-to-reach communities. The company’s technology maps earthquakes, floods, wildfires and volcanic eruptions and provides live video monitoring feeds to assess safe landing areas and aid in search and rescue efforts. The drones can also be integrated into a company’s existing logistics network and are even able to fly to and from ships at anchor, connecting land- and sea-based operations.

Skyports is, however, is focused more on constructing the infrastructure needed to support drone flights. Utilizing Swoop Aero’s technology in collaboration with the U.K.’s National Health Service and Royal Mail, as well as FedEx (NYSE: FDX) in Ireland, Skyports builds and manages landing sites for drones. These are what it refers to as Vertiports. The landing sites resemble miniature airports, however they are designed to be usable to all vehicles.

Presently, Skyports operates three vertiports. The primary location in London provides services to Europe in Europe and the Middle East, while its Singapore location covers the Asia-Pacific region. Its Los Angeles location reaches customers across the Americas. Alex Brown, Skyports’ director of drones, believes that Skyports’ vertiports are an important element in unlocking the world’s medical supply chain.

“We have already seen the potential drone logistics provide to health care facilities as a result of our work in conjunction with NHS across the U.K., transporting pathology samples and COVID-19 testing,” Brown remarked. “In only the U.K. up to now we’ve saved nearly 12,000 hours of waiting time, which means patients can begin treatment faster and go on living their life.

“With this collaboration together with BD Rowa,” he said, “we’re bringing drone delivery to the pharmaceutical industry to offer speed, frequency and reliability for patients in communities that are difficult to reach throughout Europe, the U.K., Europe and the Middle East.”

Skyports, similar to Swoop Aero, has its own fleet of drones which can transport medical supplies to remote locations. Skyports provides two kinds of delivery services: maritime-focused delivery, which includes ship-to-shore, and rural-focused deliveries that are less expensive and more efficient than a standard ground-based delivery system.

Drones that are used in the health system aren’t new, however they’re in the early stage. Drone delivery service Zipline is widely regarded as an innovator in this field, having begun humanitarian drone missions in 2016 in Rwanda in which it provided medical supplies, including blood and medicines.

Read the following article: Zipline’s drone delivery of pharmaceuticals generates $2.75B value

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Since then, the company has expanded its operations globally, even bringing its drone delivery network to the U.S. in states like North Carolina and Utah. Zipline’s U.S. presence includes a partnership with Walmart (NYSE: WMT), which launched in November, enabling drone delivery of health and wellness products in Arkansas.

Wingcopter is an additional drone-delivery service which has established itself within the health sector. In January, the company announced a partnership with the unmanned aerial vehicle service provider Spright to provide an “large collection” of drones that can be used to facilitate rapid delivery of medical supplies including PPE, as well as lab specimens in rural, under-served and remote regions.

In contrast to those partnerships, this collaboration that will be formed between Swoop Aero and Skyports will include a business in BD Rowa that is focused solely on the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.

“Next-level thought is to look beyond the immediate area of your focus and look at what other top suppliers are doing across the supply chain and look for opportunities where collaboration could yield more profit,” said Swoop Aero’s Peck. “BD Rowa has an impressive tradition of developing automated storing and dispensing solutions for wholesalers hospitals, pharmacies and patients. We look forward to working with them in order to increase the value they can bring to health systems through the integration of automated logistical air transport.”

The announcement on Monday comes on the announcement of a new partnership with Swoop Aero, an alliance with satellite communications company Iridium which was announced this week. Swoop Aero will leverage Iridium’s connectivity technology to allow operations in remote areas, that are often without a robust communication infrastructure.

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