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Manufacture Business Practice, Small Molecules, Trends & Forecasts

Is the Tide Turning?

I see the momentum in the pharma industry swinging towards sea freight, which is growing at around nine percent per year – far outstripping growth in airfreight. The main advantage is an increase in quality: airfreight has many “hand-offs” where the product is physically handled by different parties, not all of whom are trained in the handling of pharmaceuticals. With sea freight, once the container doors are shut (at the manufacturer’s own premises) that is usually the last time the product is touched by anyone until it reaches the customer. The second advantage is cost: sea freight is one-tenth the price of airfreight. Finally, when you transport a product via sea it is sealed and locked in a container with little opportunity for theft. Airfreight, on the other hand, is more open to unwanted intervention.

Despite these three advantages, there are some considerations one must make before deciding to ship via sea: timescale being a big one. The typical sea voyage between Europe and the US is seven to 10 days; from Europe to India and the Far East it’s 21 to 25 days; and to Australia it is six weeks. During these long trips, there are one or two risk points when the reefer (temperature controlled) container is unplugged, but this can be mitigated by using thermal blankets or passive protection. That said, the potential for temperature excursions is far greater when transporting via air – even the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has referred to the airport as a “black hole.” Temperature problems at sea do arise, but they are relatively easy to predict and protect against.

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About the Author

Mark Edwards

Mark Edwards is former Global Freight and Compliance Manager for Actavis and Managing Director of supply chain consultancy Modalis.

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