How smart packaging can save lives

Can something as simple as proper packaging save lives? The reverse is certainly true.

The World Health Organization recommends that tetanus vaccines are stored in temperatures from 2-8°C, otherwise the vaccine might become not only unusable, but a health hazard. In areas where there is vast supply, losing a shipment is not the end of the world; however, a sudden disaster can lead to no supply, and the worst possible scenario: the loss of lives.

But that worst-case scenario is set to become a risk of the past. Newly commercialized methods of Smart Packagingpackaging allow for temperature stability for up to five days, overcoming probably more than 90% of disruptions in supply. The highest level of security can be obtained through the wonder of modern technology called the Internet of Things. The little pack of medicines, hidden deep in the air cargo pallet, can now send data to doctors in Kampala, telling them how warm or cold it is in the transit warehouse, and how long it has been stuck at the airport in Addis Ababa.

Consider the following real life example: During transit of a thermal pallet shipper, Henry Schein Inc. – the world’s largest provider of healthcare products and services to office-based dental, animal health and medical practitioners – was experiencing significant customs delays at a location in the Middle East. The important shipment of vaccines, diagnostics and antibiotics was at risk to become waste, and lost to those expecting and needing the supplies. However, the data provided by web-based technology alarmed Henry Schein that the packaging was reaching its thermal limits. Through close collaboration with the transportation partner the required reconditioning prior to delivery to customers was ensured, all occurring without any damage. Smart packaging prevented this shipment from spoiling in transit, which would have caused significant shortages of medical supplies to the areas of need.

Security packaging with anti-counterfeiting technologies plays also a vital role in fighting the $200 billion counterfeit drug industry. Smart packing will alleviate health risks associated with adulterated drugs, the catch-all term for contaminated, unsterile, unsafe, spoiled or expired products. According to a study published by The Lancet on 2,634 malaria drug samples, more than one-third failed as substandard after chemical analysis, and about 20% were found to be wholly counterfeit. Today’s packaging design goes far beyond material quality but helps to focus on improved barrier properties to moisture, UV light, oxygen, shock and carbon dioxide.

The world of connected and communicating things offers unprecedented perspectives into life protection and healthcare. Ultimately, packing will carry all vital information, ranging from the evidence that the product is genuine, to the conditions the goods experienced during the sometimes very long journey from the factory to patients and users.

This will not be the end, however, of the development. Increasingly popular wearables in the form of smart watches, glasses and even textiles will not only be able to receive and analyse the data sent by the smart packages, but produce and communicate individual information, which at some point will allow for individualized drugs and treatments.

This blog was originally posted on the World Economic Forum Agenda.

Author: Wolfgang Lehmacher is Director, Head of Supply Chain and Transport, Mobility Industries at the World Economic Forum.

Image: Various medicine pills in their original packaging are seen in Ljubljana REUTERS/Srdjan Zivulovic

How the internet is globalizing small and mid-sized enterprises

In 2012, then University of Washington student, Ryan French invented an easy way to connect a smartphone to a games console controller and hold both devices at once. He Internetcalled it the Gamekilp. Thanks to online sales and payments Ryan has sold the product to customers in more than 80 countries. Internet-based marketing made the business instantly global and Ryan states, “I can’t imagine something like the GameKlip being successful without online sales and payments, I never considered launching only in the domestic market. Around half of GameKlips are purchased from outside the US, with Canada, the UK, Australia and Germany proving the biggest markets so far.”[1]

What are the specific drivers behind Ryan’s success? The primary driver for the success of the Gameklip is the global Internet, which enables a small entrepreneurial business like Ryan’s to connect directly with 3 billion potential customers around the world. The second driver is online platforms like web marketing and electronic payments processors that enable Ryan to find and engage in trusted transactions with customers from around the world. The third driver is global express shipping services, which enable Ryan to deliver the Gameklip to customers around the world safely and securely.

The primary key benefit of the Internet-based model for cross border commerce are the low barriers to global market entry. Thanks to online platforms, Ryan could setup his website, market the product, accept payments, and deliver all without large scale capital investments or an international sales team and organisation. Another key benefit of Internet-enabled cross border trade is the ability to rapidly scale globally. Ryan put up his website and within the matter of a year had sold to 80 countries.

Innovative software that can calculate fully-landed costs upfront are a major enabler. The Global Shipping Program is an example for an enabler of cross border trade. The program makes products located in the United States of America and the United Kingdom available to buyers around the world. There are three elements which are key to the success of the program. Firstly, the global eBay Marketplace platform with over 150 million users. Secondly, the partnership between eBay and Pitney Bowes. Thirdly, the creation of national logistics hubs where outbound international shipments can be aggregated and prepared for global shipping and distribution.

Is the regulatory framework ready for this development? Global public policy officials need to recognize that this type of trade is vital for healthy and inclusive economic growth, and that it has unique barriers associated with it. Ryan is not a known trader that can secure expedited treatment through customs for his goods. Ryan’s goods can be held up at borders and he would have no recourse because he does not have a dedicated customs agent to help facilitate the goods across borders. Specific policies are needed to support the small global entrepreneurs and the small and mid-sized enterprises.

Today, the Internet connects millions of entrepreneurs with billions of buyers. We are not surprised anymore about billion dollar businesses born in dorm rooms or garages. But the hidden stories that might be even more important in the long run are the countless micro-businesses that could survive and thrive in the technology-enabled global market that would have otherwise withered and died in the traditional 20th-Century model of globalization.

This blog was originally posted on the World Economic Forum Agenda.

Author: Brian Bieron, Executive Director, eBay Inc. Public Policy Lab. Wolfgang Lehmacher, Director, Head of Supply Chain and Transport Industries, World Economic Forum.

Image: A zoomed image of a computer monitor shows a website selling button clipart for online shops in Vienna November 27, 2013. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

[1] PayPal (2013) Modern Spice Routes – The Cultural Impact and Economic Opportunity of Cross-Border Shopping