5G in Health & Social Care Logistics

In the production of medicines and medical equipment, the stakes are high.  From gene therapies to vaccines, blood glucose meters to pacemakers and PPE, specificity of manufacturing and quality control are essential to ensure goods can be safely used, provide accurate readings and deliver maximum benefit or protection to recipients.  The logistical demands around distribution are also extensive: medicines are highly perishable and valuable items, so they need to be shipped securely and in controlled conditions.  The Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for instance needs to be transported in thermal shipping containers at ultra-cold temperatures between -90°C and -60°C (-130°F and -76°F) with dry ice.  

As with other areas of manufacturing and logistics, 5G can play an important role in production, operations and the supply chain. With 5G networks comes the ability to connect a far greater density of devices, measuring everything from temperature, humidity and location to cameras streaming ultra-high definition video in real-time.  This provides greater visibility into the production process enabling earlier fault detection, ensuring correct conditions can be maintained, and creating the ability to easily adjust settings as required. Tracking and remote condition monitoring mean goods can be monitored in factories, warehouses and throughout the supply chain, in real-time, helping to guarantee the security and conditions of goods as they travel to their ultimate destination.  The result is less wastage, reduced costs and people receiving the medicines and equipment they need, as they need it.   

And it’s not just in the world of medicines and medical equipment manufacturing that 5G can play a role. The transportation of blood, organs or PPE has long been held up as a practical example of the role that drones can play in the sector. With 5G this can become a reality, allowing for drones to be flown and remotely operated beyond the line of visible sight. Such innovations could be of particular value in rural or remote areas which may not be as well served by traditional courier services.

How Could 5G Support the Logistics of Health & Social Care?

Real-Time Monitoring of Medical & Medicines Manufacturing

The world of medical manufacturing is becoming increasingly complex, requiring a closer integration of science and technology. Precision — whether producing implants or gene therapies — is critical. If, for example, a machine part is not aligned or there is a slight variation in temperature, the quality can be impacted, with consequences for the health and safety of patients. 

5G’s high-bandwidth offers the ability to simultaneously connect as many as a million devices per km2. Sensors can, therefore, be deployed through all parts of the factory at a density not previously possible. The low-latency of 5G also enables the data to be viewed in real-time, offering unprecedented levels of insight for production lines. This visibility enables early fault detection and ensures the correct conditions are maintained — resulting in proven less wastage, reduced costs and a more productive factory floor. 

Where has this been done?
High-Precision Mobile Asset Location Tracking in Factories & Warehouses

Factories and warehouses are usually vast spaces: the AstraZeneca MedImmune biologics site in Speke, for example, produces 20 million flu vaccines each year and GSK’s Barnard Castle site ships tropical oral medicines around the world. Even for the SME and micro manufacturers who make up almost 95% of medical device manufacturing in the UK, sites are often large and highly complex. Tracking the movement of materials and goods is imperative to streamlining production.

Where has this been done?
Predictive Maintenance

5G enables dense sensor networks and Artificial Intelligence (AI) models that are able to detect leading indicators of defects. 5G networks facilitate the capture and processing of more data, in real-time, allowing a shift to a predictive maintenance model,  which impressively, results in detections of issues up to 90 days in advance.  This allows for scheduling and controlling of maintenance and repairs, minimising downtime, extending the lifespan of machinery and avoiding wastage from time-based maintenance approaches.  Hexagon found that manufacturers can reduce the number of spare parts required by 10% through a shift to asset condition monitoring and subsequent predictive maintenance.  In the world of medicines and medical manufacturing, predictive maintenance can help ensure a steady provision of medicines, critical to patients where continuity of treatment is paramount.

Where has this been done?
Inter-Modal Asset Location Tracking Outside of the Factory

Most goods—both inbound and outbound—will move through multiple transport modes to reach their destination and as a result, tracking is usually complex. It is estimated that less than 10% of logistics companies have full visibility of their supply chain and with the average cost of a pharma theft being estimated at $100,000, the need to be able to track and maintain the security of medicines is great. 5G networks make it much easier to share data across multiple sites, enabling inter-modal asset location tracking for goods. For manufacturers, this means less reliance on logistics firms to provide tracking data, greater visibility and ultimately an enhanced ability to adjust activities to maximise uptime and throughput.ater reach. 

Where has this been done?
Remote Condition Monitoring

The use of 5G networks and Internet of Things sensors (such as temperature or humidity sensors) allow manufacturers to monitor both the environment in which goods are shipped and the conditions of the goods themselves.  This is particularly important in the shipping of medicines which often require very specific and narrow parameters for storage and transport.  For instance the Pfizer vaccine which is transported in thermal shipping containers at ultra-cold temperatures between -90°C and -60°C (-130°F and -76°F) with dry ice.  Real-time monitoring enables rapid detection of any deviation in conditions (for example, temperature), as well as any tampering with goods, and allows for quick intervention. This is essential for ensuring medicines and medical devices are safely delivered in optimal condition for maximum efficacy. 

Where has this been done?
Border Control Optimisation

The UK’s recent departure from the EU has made the process of customs increasingly complex, with significant impacts for manufacturers. Late arrivals of raw materials can delay or halt production processes, and delayed deliveries to customers can incur penalty charges. When dealing with perishable items such as vaccines, the potential loss is even greater. But with 5G, a reliable wireless connection can facilitate a seamless, stress-free transition through borders, globally. 

Where has this been done?
Drone Deliveries for Samples, Organs, Blood & Medical Supplies

The delivery of organs and blood supplies is time critical, with thoracic organs such as the heart and lungs only viable for four to six hours outside the body; reliable transport solutions are a must.  With 5G, it becomes possible to remotely control drones beyond the line of sight, significantly expanding their potential applications.  Drones could therefore in the future be used to widely transport samples, organs, blood and urgent medical supplies more efficiently, with minimal risk of contamination and greater operational coverage and frequency of collections and deliveries in rural areas.

When will this be available? View our predicted timeline here.

Where has this been done?