Sensors to track medical supply delivery for UPS: Report

In a clear sign of the increasing role of sensors in logistics, United Parcel Service Inc. plans to early next year launch a service that enables customers to track medical packages’ exact locations in near-real time, according to an article by Sara Castellanos on the site of the Wall Street Journal.

Called UPS Premier, the service will reportedly prioritize the handling of shipments such as personalized medicines, DNA and gene therapies, investigative drugs, laboratory specimens and implantable medical devices. The service’s goal to ensure that packages arrive at exactly the right time and place, despite factors such as bad weather.

“Having better visibility about where shipments are [means] when unexpected things happen, we’ll be in a better position to react,” Juan Perez, the company’s chief information and engineering officer, was quoted as saying.

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To achieve timely delivery, the packages will have sensors that enable UPS to track their exact location at any given time. Currently, UPS employees know where a high-priority package is at a few points throughout the delivery cycle based on visual cues placed on packages.

The sensors interact with electronic readers in sorting and distribution operations, using technologies including Bluetooth, cellular and Wi-Fi. UPS employees can use that information to prioritize deliveries and change them as necessary, Perez said. Packages can be rerouted in the event of a weather delay, for example, to ensure it still gets to patients on time, he said.

The service exemplifies how technology is being used to improve the complex health-care supply chain, which often involves packages that are temperature-sensitive and can expire quickly. Multiple parties often handle drugs before patients receive them, including manufacturers, pharmacies, and wholesale distributors.

According to the article, UPS is not the only logistics service aiming to improve health-care delivery. FedEx Corp. has a health-care-focused logistics service called SenseAware that customers can use to monitor location of shipments, in real-time. And, Merck is starting to test a cloud-based platform that can analyze data points from various organizations within the drug maker’s supply chain, the article said.

UPS was quoted as saying in the article it could eventually expand package tracking services beyond the health-care industry.