Transporting medical supplies by air around the world in safe and temperature-controlled conditions is a life-critical business. Maintaining the integrity and quality of these supplies is vital for the pharmaceutical companies who supply them and the patients who depend on them. So having a reliable cold chain transportation and logistics service is of crucial importance and that includes having ready access to a highly specialised fleet of containers all around the world. Envirotainer, pioneering global market leaders in the provision of dry ice and temperature-controlled containers for the transportation of sensitive and perishable products, turned to a digital pen solution from Destiny Wireless to speed up their processes and boost efficiency. The results have been considerable much faster turnaround, serious savings in time and cost, and the enablement of a 20% expansion of their business without the need to expand existing resources.
With rising customer demand for their over 4000 containers spread across 45 stations servicing over 200 airports in more than 100 countries around the world, Envirotainer needs to make the best possible use of their fleet in every way in order to provide the highest possible levels of reliability and availability. And with hundreds of movements every day, the picture is constantly changing as containers provided on a short term lease are returned and checked in by service providers often at a different location from where they were issued. Any damage needs to be quickly identified and rectified. Fast turnaround is essential, as is real time visibility of container location and condition. The last thing that anyone wants to see is containers waiting empty on the ground when they could be used for the next urgent consignment of medication.
Before they started using digital pen technology, based on Anoto functionality, the service providers contracted to Envirotainer through a global network of logistics partners were using normal pen and paper to record the arrival of the container, report its condition and advise on any repairs that were needed. The information from these paper reports was then manually transferred to a spreadsheet to be either faxed or scanned and emailed to one of Envirotainer's three logistics offices in Sydney, Frankfurt and Dallas - with the risk of human error creeping into the reporting. Administrators in these locations would then face more time-consuming work to interpret the data. Photographs of damaged containers would be taken by a normal camera and sent separately. The net effect of this long-winded process was a time delay of up to three days between the return of a container, even in perfect condition, and a system confirmation that it was available again for rental. At best, this might mean a container being moved around unnecessarily when one of the right type was already in the right place. At worst, it might mean being unable to meet critical deadlines.
"We knew we needed a more efficient process that would give us far better visibility based on accurate real time information," said Thomas Westerholm, Quality Assurance Engineer for Envirotainer. "The digital pen solution from destiny stood out as a simple and effective answer that we could implement quickly without much training or change to working practices," he continues. Gabriel Andersson, Chief Operation Officer at Envirotainer, was also happy to recommend digital pens from his own experience at DSV, another major user of the destiny system.
An early step for the destiny team was to digitise and redesign the booking-in and inspection forms to be more intuitive, with tick boxes for key data fields to limit freehand text. A three month pilot was then carried out in two locations, Frankfurt and Dallas. After the success of this pilot, the new system was rolled out on a global scale to Envirotainer's operations in all major airports around the world. One hundred digital pens are now in use in twenty five countries across Europe, Asia, Australia and USA.
Now, as each container is returned, service providers use digital pen and paper to book it in, record its unique ID number and complete the appropriate inspection report after checking for any damage. Date, time and location are automatically captured. Then, simply by ticking a box on the digital form, the pen strokes that have been automatically recorded by a tiny camera in the nib of the pen are instantly transmitted via Bluetooth to the service provider's mobile phone. A further check is made here on the screen to validate the container ID before the data is transmitted on as a pdf conversion of the original handwritten form and an xml data file. These are sent electronically via M Solutions who manage and support mission critical IT systems for Envirotainer to be integrated into Envirotainer's back end system. Although the great majority of containers are returned in fully serviceable and reusable condition, digital inspection forms are used to record the degree of any damage. Photographs can also be taken by mobile phone and sent as an attachment to the data so that administrators can assess the damage and initiate action as necessary.
"When we first started to roll the system out I thought the biggest issue would be with ensuring our service providers embraced this change," said Thomas Westerholm. "But after a couple of weeks it was clear that they love it. It just makes everything so quick and easy."
As well as making things easy, the destiny solution has contributed to a dramatic recent improvement in Envirotainer's business. With no significant increase in the container fleet, the company has optimised yield to the extent that it has grown rental volumes by 20% more than the same time the previous year. This is largely due to much faster turnaround - typically 48 hours per container - without precious time being lost while paperwork is processed. The flow of information from the sending of an inspection report to the main system logging the status of the relevant container now takes minutes rather than the previous time expenditure of up to three days. Other critical management information is also much more visible, such as damage trends by location. The accuracy of this data has increased as well, since the risk of human error is now much lower and the rate reduced to less than 1%. There are serious cost benefits too, with a projected saving of 910,000 Euro over three years from the combined implementation of destiny with M Solutions container barcode scanning system.
"Everyone in logistics should consider using digital pens," said Thomas Westerholm. "They make things so simple. Everyone can write, and there's no need to be an IT expert. In addition, we get really good support from the destiny team in any answering questions right away they have shown tremendous availability to us as and when we need it."