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Pen your own logistics success story

Transporting medical supplies by air around the world in safe and ­temperature-controlled conditions is a ­life-critical business which means having a reliable cold chain transportation and logistics service is ­crucial. This is why Envirotainer, specialist in dry ice and temperature-controlled containers for the transportation of sensitive and perishable products, turned to a digital pen solution from Destiny Wireless to speed up its processes and boost efficiency

The results have been dramatic – much faster turnaround, serious savings in time and cost, and the enablement of a 20 per cent expansion of their business without the need to expand existing resources.

With rising customer demand for their over 4,000 containers spread across 45 stations servicing over 200 airports in more than 100 countries around the world, Envirotainer needs to make the best possible use of their fleet in every way in order to provide the highest possible levels of reliability and availability. And with hundreds of movements every day, the picture is constantly changing as containers provided on a short term lease are returned and checked in by service providers – often at a different location from where they were issued. Any damage needs to be quickly identified and rectified. Fast turnaround is essential, as is real time visibility of container location and condition. The last thing that anyone wants to see is containers waiting empty on the ground when they could be used for the next urgent consignment of medication.

Before they started using digital pen technology, based on Anoto functionality, the service providers contracted to Envirotainer through a global network of logistics partners were using normal pen and paper to record the arrival of the container, report its condition and advise on any repairs that were needed. The information from these paper reports was then manually transferred to a spreadsheet to be either faxed or scanned and emailed to one of Envirotainer’s three logistics offices in Sydney, Frankfurt and Dallas - with the risk of human error creeping into the reporting. Administrators in these locations would then face more time-consuming work to interpret the data. Photographs of damaged containers would be taken by a normal camera and sent separately. The net effect of this long-winded process was a time delay of up to three days between the return of a container, even in perfect condition, and a system confirmation that it was available again for rental. At best, this might mean a container being moved around unnecessarily when one of the right type was already in the right place. At worst, it might mean being unable to meet critical deadlines.

“We knew we needed a more efficient process that would give us far better visibility based on accurate real time information,” says Thomas Westerholm, quality assurance engineer for Envirotainer. “The digital pen solution from destiny stood out as a simple and effective answer that we could implement quickly without much training or change to working practices,” he continues.

Dramatic results

An early step for the destiny team was to digitise and redesign the booking-in and inspection forms to be more intuitive, with tick boxes for key data fields to limit freehand text. A three month pilot was then carried out in two locations, Frankfurt and Dallas. After the success of this pilot, the new system was rolled out on a global scale to Envirotainer’s operations in all major airports around the world. One hundred digital pens are now in use in 25 countries across Europe, Asia, Australia and USA.

Now, as each container is returned, service providers use digital pen and paper to book it in, record its unique ID number and complete the appropriate inspection report after checking for any damage. Date, time and location are automatically captured. Then, simply by ticking a box on the digital form, the pen strokes that have been automatically recorded by a tiny camera in the nib of the pen are instantly transmitted via Bluetooth to the service provider’s mobile phone. A further check is made here on the screen to validate the container ID before the data is transmitted on as a pdf conversion of the original handwritten form and an xml data file. These are sent electronically via M Solutions which manages and supports mission critical IT systems for Envirotainer to be integrated into Envirotainer’s back end system. Although the great majority of containers are returned in fully serviceable and reusable condition, digital inspection forms are used to record the degree of any damage. Photographs can also be taken by mobile phone and sent as an attachment to the data so that administrators can assess the damage and initiate action as necessary.

“When we first started to roll the system out I thought the biggest issue would be with ensuring our service providers embraced this change,” said Thomas Westerholm. “But after a couple of weeks it was clear that they love it. It just makes everything so quick and easy.”

As well as making things easy, the destiny solution has contributed to a dramatic recent improvement in Envirotainer’s business. With no significant increase in the container fleet, the company has optimised yield to the extent that it has grown rental volumes by 20 per cent more than the same time the previous year.

“Everyone in logistics should consider using digital pens,” said Thomas Westerholm. “They make things so simple. Everyone can write, and there’s no need to be an IT expert.

Destiny Wireless 

T: 0845 8558855

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