“Digitalisation runs through our development strategy”

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“As a business we are looking at digitalisation and the Internet of Things (IoT) as a means of doing things better and faster through both automating and optimising processes to provide the highest quality and consistency to our customers,” Niall Balfour, chief executive of Tower Cold Chain, the Reading based temperature controlled solutions provider, tells ACW.

“Digitalisation runs through our development strategy, both in terms of modernisation of Tower and in providing one version of the truth. Systems are integral to the way we work and our opportunity to add value to our solutions and these technologies will help us with our desire to deliver new SMART solutions to the market.”

Patented datalogger

Tower’s original patented datalogger system has been key to this development. The company was the first to incorporate a datalogger into a thermally insulated container, designed to measure ambient and product temperatures continually.

“Twenty years on, our latest technology delivers the robustness, reliability and reusability our customers’ demand and today’s dataloggers play a key part of this,” says Balfour.

“Built into all Tower containers, the devices are capable of logging internal temperatures from -95°C (-139°F) up to 50°C (122°F). Using Bluetooth Low Energy Technology, each logger communicates wirelessly, sending real time accurate data to the cloud. This allows for in-transit compliance checks and on-delivery sign-off, delivering a complete electronic and hard copy audit trail across the entire logistics process to ensure peace of mind throughout the journey.

“We are constantly innovating and improving our offering to ensure all cold chain pharmaceutical products make it to their destination safely and securely, ensuring critical medicines are delivered intact and always within the manufacturer’s temperature stability requirements. AI is rapidly emerging as a powerful technology to add value to the supply chain across multiple dynamics and data sources.

“We are evaluating the use of AI in helping to analyse the vast data set that we have from our on going and historical container journeys around the globe. For example, where we currently have automated alarms and alerts, further data analysis can help us identify new ways to accurately predict future performance to enable better decision making, both from an operational performance perspective and for predictive maintenance and product optimisation.”

Advanced manufacturing

As for the development of the Tower offering, Balfour explains that a range of advanced manufacturing and material technologies will be introduced to enhance the thermal performance and passive energy storage systems incorporated into Tower’s containers.

“Complex composite materials can offer enhanced performance and ensure that we continue to develop robust, reliable and reusable products, which are sustainable and minimise their impact on the environment.

“Our products are digitally connected and continually monitor both ambient and product temperatures which are uploaded to the cloud using Bluetooth connectivity. In a rapidly developing digital world we are striving to develop smarter products to take full advantage of IoT connectivity,” Balfour says.

He tells ACW that Tower’s research and development process focuses strongly on customers, analysing their needs alongside the trends and technologies within the wider market to identify innovative opportunities.

“Our expert teams work closely with stakeholders to identify challenges across a supply chain and deliver customer-focused innovation from our new headquarters with its Innovation Centre. Be it from the latest advances in IoT technology to the newest materials science, our dedicated team have the space and development resources to ensure we continue to deliver innovative and market leading solutions to our customers through our R&D programmes.”

Unprecedented growth

Throughout the pandemic, Tower has seen unprecedented growth. “Undoubtedly, the pandemic has had an enormous effect on the global supply chain network, and many continue to face the combined challenges of reduced capacity for air freight, grounded flights, spiralling costs and sea freight delays to name but a few issues. But, whilst the world of shipping has certainly changed beyond all recognition, Tower continues to provide reliable, robust, and reusable cold chain solutions for our customers,” says Balfour.

“As a business we have seen huge demand for the effective cold storage transportation of pharmaceutical goods, and our ability to provide the excellent customer service and product availability globally has been a real focus for the business.

“The pandemic has changed many things, but our customers’ needs have in essence remained aligned to our product pillars of robustness, reliability and reusability, and we have therefore focused to ensure we continue to deliver for them as a business.

“Clearly all supply chains faced both increased demand, shorter lead times and significant forecast variability because of Covid-19, and we therefore invested in our global supply network to ensure our solutions were available for collection and/or delivery in the geographies and regions where our customers’ manufacturing facilities are based.

“Our global supply chain team also worked effectively within a complex market environment to ensure that product availability was maintained throughout the pandemic in all global hubs. Having each hub stock all Tower products was a clear market need, as customers often changed packing configurations and volumes reflecting the wider market environment. In addition, our Team Tower experts supported our customers’ regulatory and quality teams to meet the increase in demand and needs driven by the pandemic.

“Our customers and their supply chains are increasingly demanding circularity, and this aligns with our own determination to minimise waste and maximise container use and reuse. This journey has been recognised in our recent medal from EcoVadis who analysed our sustainability performance and awarded us a bronze medal.”

Balfour anticipates that this momentum will continue into 2022 and beyond.

“Our new product pipeline is advancing well with a number of short- and long-term projects in development. These are focused on broadening our range of options in sub-pallet sizes across both mechanically and manually handled units as well as larger multi-pallet systems. We are also developing the next generation of existing Tower products with higher thermal performance and enhanced passive energy systems to address the ever-developing needs of the market.

“This combined with real-time visibility of temperature and location data as well as other performance information for our containers, will ensure we continue to expand our offering by meeting the exacting quality focus and performance requirements of the pharmaceutical industry and deliver the exceptional value and performance Tower is known for.”