Canadian Packaging

Pharma track-and-trace

By Robyn Schmitt   

Automation Food Safety General Case Packing Aponeo Drug Supply Chain Security Act Food and Drug Administration SSI SCHAEFER

Automated system streamlines track and trace requirements for the shipping of pharmaceutical products.

The U.S. Drug Supply Chain Security Act enacted in November 2013, will transform how the domestic supply chain operates.

The new regulations from the Food and Drug Administration are designed to ensure product safety and stringent supply chain track and trace requirements. This places greater requirements for real-time data capture of SKU (stock-keeping units) lot codes, and soon, full serialization traceability of product movement across the entire supply chain.

These new mandates for the distribution of pharmaceutical products will require high-speed camera-based scanning, integrated with automated labeling to efficiently track and trace the shipments.

To help manage these requirements, SSI SCHAEFER has developed the first automated solution to verify and document orders prior to shipping, the SSI Order Verifier.


Products of an order are identified, counted, verified, photographed and documented in one integrated process.

The new system provides pharmaceutical wholesalers with an efficient system to meet the legal track and trace requirements regarding documentation of shipped products, including batch tracing, proving the origin of the shipped goods.

“The bulk of pharmaceutical orders, both prescription (RX) and over-the-counter (OTC) products, are packed in small quantities, and delivered for individual drug stores, hospitals and healthcare centers,” says SSI SCHAEFER executive director of ASD sales Ross Halket. “With a throughput of up to 6,000 items per hour and simultaneous photographic documentation, the SSI Order Verifier presents the most cost-efficient, automated order verification solution to handle these split-case orders.”

How the SSI Order Verifier works
The incoming order totes are automatically unloaded onto a conveyor, where the items from the totes are then separated and singulated using a system of variable-speed conveyors.  At an adjacent reading station the individual articles are scanned and photographically documented.  The system recognizes 1D bar codes and/or 2D data matrix codes, and RFID.  The articles are then batched together again to consolidate the order for shipping.

Key functions of the SSI Order Verifier include:

  • Tote Induction – The order totes are automatically uploaded by a tilt device.  The system will accept to up to 300 totes per hour;
    Cubic-Shaped Products – Handles cubic products up to a weight of 2.2 pounds;
  • Throughput and Product Singulation – Up to 6,000 items per hour using variable-speed conveyors;
  • Product Counting and Item Identification – 1D bar codes and/or 2D data matrix codes, and RFID readout with a 6-side scan;
  • Photographic Documentation – Each item is photographed to verify having been shipped;
  • Order Reconciliation – Automated reconciliation of items for customer orders before shipping;
  • Error Correction – Any “no-read” products are separated to reduce the manual check times.  For example, only wrong products require checking, no need to manually rescan the entire order to define the bad reads.

Although the SSI Order Verifier is particularly adapted for track and trace of pharmaceutical products, it can easily be adapted for use with other cubic-shaped product types.

Aponeo Automates Mail Order Pharmacy
The mail-order pharmacy, Aponeo, located in Berlin, provides patients throughout Germany with prescription and non-prescription medications, dietary supplements, contact lenses, cosmetics and wellness products. Since 2006, the company’s customer base has grown from 40,000 to 850,000, handling over 140,000 SKUs, and shipping 4,000 packages each day containing over 20,000 items. To handle this exponential growth, in February, 2014 Aponeo automated its distribution process for the checking and sorting of batch units by putting into place the SSI Order Verifier.

“Besides being price driven, our clients want a large product assortment and fast delivery,” says Aponeo technical director Patrick Luig. “It is virtually impossible to carry all products on-site, so we order our slow-movers and medium-movers on demand from our wholesalers. We get about 80 percent of our orders from wholesalers on demand. We then integrate these with our fast-moving SKUs that we keep in inventory to make-up our customer orders. This process of integrating items, and still guarantee next-day delivery and even same-day delivery in Berlin, has been a challenge for us that we were only able to solve with the Order Verifier system from SSI SCHAEFER.”

Aponeo’s Order Verifier system is quite streamlined.

At an ergonomic infeed workstation, workers manually empty totes received from the wholesalers onto a V-shaped conveyor. The speed of the conveyor allows for product separation, and once the articles have been separated each individual item is scanned from all sides and photo-documented.

The articles are then automatically directed to one of 12 sorter slots with order-specific totes below. Workers then place these pre-sorted batch totes onto an automated trolley which takes them to the picking area where the inventoried fast-movers are integrated into the tote-batched orders. Then workers pack the patient-ready orders for shipping to customers.

Before the SSI Order Verifier, every article was scanned manually, which took two to three seconds per item—now, Aponeo is running at 0.8 seconds per item.

“The Order Verifier checking and sortation solution cut our lead time by 50 percent, and our orders are virtually 100 percent error free,” continues Luig.  “And we are only running at 50 percent capacity. The whole system is compact, occupying only 500 square feet within our distribution center.  Additionally, since our system can now scan 1D and 2D data matrix codes, we are totally set up to be compliant with the upcoming industry documentation and verification regulations.”

About SSI Schaefer Systems International, Inc.
Schaefer Systems International provides storage, materials handling, logistics and waste technology solutions to businesses throughout North America.  It designs and manufactures state-of-the-art intralogistic storage and picking solutions for all types of industries, as well as plastic containers, pallets, and waste and recycling carts. Headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, Schaefer Systems International is part of the SSI SCHAEFER Group, a global leader in logistics and materials handling founded in 1937, with offices and plants in over 50 different countries.

For more information, contact Schaefer Systems International, Inc. director of corporate marketing and communications Jennifer Gallman:

10301 Westlake Drive, Charlotte, NC 28273;
Tel: 704-944-4500;

The article’s author, Robyn Schmitt, writes on advances in fulfillment automation.


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