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DHL Global Forwarding USA is rapidly moving to increase the amount of medical, life sciences and pharmaceutical freight — especially temperature-controlled items — it is forwarding around the world.
Much of the cargo is being processed from DHL’s 430,000-square-foot facility at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport that the company opened in 2015 and is in the process of expanding, with improved technology to track packages and specific truck-loading docks and equipment for temperature-sensitive packages.
“Yes, there are many freight forwarders, but in the life science area we have the facilities, the people which are trained, and so we have the competency to be able to handle those shipments, which improve lives,” David Goldberg, CEO of DHL Global Forwarding USA, told Transport Topics. “It’s not just an airfreight shipment from A to B, it’s a shipment which has a real purpose for people, so that’s something we want to continue to work on.”
DHL, UPS Inc., FedEx Corp. and others have been involved in this business line for many years. But experts say in the past several years the shipment of life science and temperature-controlled products has skyrocketed, and the economic growth likely will continue.
Goldberg discusses developments at DHL. (Dan Ronan/Transport Topics)
Grave View Research said the global biologistics market would reach $400 billion by 2025, with an annual 4% growth rate as targeted therapies, coupled with the rising adoption of patient-centric personalized medicine, is anticipated to fuel demand.
“The growth of pharmaceuticals, life sciences, medical devices, going and being shipped around the world, most of that is happening from the U.S. and Europe to other parts of the world, Satish Jindel, president of S.J. Consulting Group, told Transport Topics. “It is a growth area where the three global carriers are very well-positioned to leverage that and enhance the value proposition for their companies.”
The 2019 Biopharma Cold Chain Sourcebook says, “The biopharma industry is handing off more and more of the shipping and distribution process to third-party logistics providers, even as regulatory burdens become heavier. Electronic tracking of shipments, including near real-time reporting of location and condition, is becoming a desired option.”
A view of DHL's cold storage warehouse in Chicago. (Dan Ronan/Transport Topics)
Jindel says that is, in part, because the makers of these drugs and medical devices trust the larger shippers with their products and the likelihood of counterfeit products entering the supply chain is much lower, using an internationally known shipper.
“There is a tendency in some parts of the world for fake, or not genuine, drugs being sold in their name,” Jindel said. “Known customers would rather trust a company like UPS, DHL and FedEx than some company that is cutting corners.”
A key piece in DHL’s effort to track packages is a radio-frequency identification (RFID) passive and active system installed in the Chicago warehouse, which is the largest stand-alone airfreight facility in the international DHL Global Forwarding network. With the new devices, a package can be tracked without manual scanning from the time it arrives in the facility to the moment it departs. DHL said it is the first shipping company to implement this technology, which is used at airports by the airlines and the Transportation Security Administration.
“Few freight forwarders have this type of technology in place,” said Chris Gonsowski, Chicago DHL station manager. “The RFID passive-and-active technology will help us eliminate manual processes, reduce costs and time in our warehouse, and respond more quickly to any exceptions in the transport process.”
With 65 loading docks, the DHL Chicago facility also has direct truck access to the airport’s ramp and Customs and Border Patrol and TSA agents, along with K9 dogs, who are working in the building to inspect and clear cargo.
DHL sensors at the Chicago warehouse. (Dan Ronan/Transport Topics)
Additionally, the Newark, N.J., company is introducing an alternative temperature-management import and export system in Chicago for its life science and health care customers that it said will reduce demurrage costs. Also, its new DHL SmartSensors will ensure temperature-sensitive shipments are monitored throughout the transportation process.
DHL’s expansion increases the competition with Atlanta-based UPS and Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx. Both companies have made their health care and life sciences supply chain a core business division. In 2015, UPS announced it was expanding its Current Good Manufacturing Practice stocking locations to support implantable medical device deliveries so that 80% of hospitals could be serviced within four hours.
Deutsche Post DHL Group, parent company of DHL Global Forwarding USA, ranks No. 6 on the Transport Topics list of the Top 50 global freight companies. FedEx Logistics and UPS Inc. rank No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.