Adversity forces innovation, especially for those resistant to change. With increasing competition from integrators, air cargo forwarders and other stakeholders have started to acknowledge they need to streamline and collaborate, fully embracing supply chain technology to survive in a rapidly changing world.  

A driving factor is the lack of air cargo visibility. With the rapid growth in e-commerce, a growth only accelerated by the pandemic, retailers and manufacturers cite lack of supply chain visibility as one of their largest challenges today

Not unreasonably, they say they need a supply chain that offers advanced planning and that is highly agile and coordinated. They need greater access to data to show not only where shipments are throughout the entire journey in real-time, but also their safety and integrity. Without that, the companies are unable to react to problems when they occur or stop those problems from happening again in the future. 

Progress to address this has been slow, hampered by trying to reach consensus among multiple stakeholders around the world. Airports, carriers, ground handlers, and logistics companies all have varying degrees of air cargo technology infrastructure. Some have none at all, while others are saddled with cumbersome legacy systems that are expensive to upgrade or replace.  

The pandemic and the need to safely transport vaccines around the world have given things a push.  

Pharmaceuticals are often extremely temperature-sensitive. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, needs to be transported frozen at -70°C (-94°F), which is colder than Antarctica. Whatever the drug, leave it in a ULD on the tarmac in the sun for too long, or have a refrigeration failure on the freighter mid-flight, and the shipment can be ruined, often with no one knowing until a patient’s treatment fails. As well as the potential loss of life, the financial cost can be considerable. The most expensive pharmaceutical is currently Zolgensma at $2.1 million per dose, but even more common drugs can routinely cost $1,000 a go. 

From manufacturers through to final-stage medical practitioners, there are often eight or more handoffs and touchpoints throughout the chain. Any of these, or the steps between, can lead to a temperature excursion in the cold chain. The International Air Transport Association estimates that 25 percent of all vaccines and 20 percent of temperature-sensitive products as a whole are degraded or damaged by the time they reach their final destination. 

No surprise that manufacturers and the world’s governments are paying particular attention to air cargo’s handling of COVID vaccines and demanding the industry ensures their safe transportation.  

A key problem is data capture and logging. You don’t know you have a problem until you have one, but monitoring can forewarn you. Unfortunately, most of the traditional methods of data capture don’t allow for seamless visibility, often still being done manually and then written on the paperwork that is, if you’re lucky, updated online at certain stages of the journey. This is where Blume Global comes in. In addition to providing logistics execution and visibility solutions, worldwide, for air cargo users, the company also leverages the Internet of Things to provide users with detailed information about their shipments, ensuring stakeholders know, in real-time, if a shipment exceeds tolerances for temperature, movement, etc.   

The cellphone is proving to be a remarkably useful solution to quickly get all these companies up to speed and to safely handle the vaccines. 

Smartphone adoption across the world continues to grow rapidly, with network coverage rolling out into increasingly remote areas. It’s estimated that as of April 2021, 5.27 billion people have a mobile device, which is just over 67 percent of the world's population. Cloud computing has also been driven by the public’s need to access desktop-equivalent computing power from their phones while on the go.  

Not only that, but aircraft passengers’ also want constant access to email and the Internet, which has driven rapid development of inflight connectivity. Once the preserve of the military or the superrich, satellite connectivity on passenger flights is now common, which also has the benefit of connecting cargo on the lower deck. The latest sensor tracking tags attached to shipments offer real-time data on location, temperature, humidity and light, and the threat of excursions.  

Combine that connectivity with easy-to-use phones that have 100,000 times the computing power than NASA used for Apollo 11, apps that are easier to develop and distribute than any legacy system, and you solve many of the problems to a transparent supply chain. 

Phones are also nearly ubiquitous and require minimal investment, making them a low barrier to entry for smaller companies to enter the cold chain. Download a tracking app to even a basic smartphone and in minutes and minimal training, anyone can start scanning and logging shipments, uploading that data to a cloud-based tracking platform, providing unified real-time data instantaneously around the world.  

Where the usual cell network coverage doesn’t reach all points of the logistics chain in air cargo hubs, inexpensive local networks are now affordable enough to offer further connectivity resilience. 

Collaboration, as well as using shared technology and data, has shown it can solve a lot of the problems. If the industry continues to adopt common tracking technology, open network connectivity, and standardized data by utilizing supply chain technology providers like Blume Global, stakeholders may finally see the fully transparent supply chain that is desperately needed. 

Air freight forwarders turn to Blume Global to deliver Amazon-like experiences for their customers, coupling end-to-end visibility with the ability to adapt, in real-time, to shipment exceptions. With Blume Global, forwarders are empowered with unrivaled air cargo technology that includes global visibility and accurate ETAs.  

 To see more, schedule a supply chain logistics and visibility demo.   

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