Planning during a pandemic: DHL on freight-handling during Covid-19

DHL freight

DHL’s David Goldberg sets out his strategy for freight-handling in the midst of one of the gravest health crises the world has ever known.

We have never experienced anything like Covid-19 anywhere in the world in recent times. What comes to mind over the course of the last few decades are SARS, MERS, H1N1 and Zika, but there has been nothing of a similar magnitude in the past century. As a freight forwarder, we quickly realised the importance of our global network and logistics expertise in helping the world receive critical goods throughout the pandemic.

In the beginning

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, demand for medical supplies including PPE and test kits has surged. In line with our company mission statement – “Connecting people – improving lives” – we prioritised the most essential shipments to ensure those desperately needed goods were delivered with minimal delay.

These urgent shipments required a network of trained colleagues globally working together to meet such a demand. We saw first-hand that our investment in a strong base of temperature-controlled services and a reliable medical supply chain were working.

To assist our life sciences and health­care customers we established 28 global charters, helping them navigate the capacity limitations felt since March.
Our new Multi-Modal Express (MMEX) service also offers routing options from China to various destinations in the US and Latin America, with reduced transit time and cost savings that include a combination of air freight, ocean shipments and trucking options.

The opening of our newest facility in Indianapolis has also added another location to our life sciences and healthcare network in the US; there is almost 900,000sqft of warehousing space, with 43,000sqft specifically dedicated to temperature-controlled life science products.

Navigating the now

Billions of people around the world are waiting for a Covid-19 vaccine. Currently, more than 250 vaccines are in trial phases. The life sciences and healthcare sector is undergoing a period of intense transformation, as manufacturers and research bodies face extreme pressure to make, store, distribute and then transport vaccines around the world.

The crucial need for cold chain capabilities and expertise when transporting temperature-sensitive product is in focus. Normally, vaccines are transported at between 2-8°C. Any exposure to inappropriate conditions, such as higher or lower temperatures, could reduce or even destroy the vaccine’s potency.

The lack of stability data available for the new vaccines may lead some producers, out of caution, to require extreme cold temperatures along the supply chain (as low as -80°C for instance). Fully understanding the range of potential temperature requirements, packaging options, modes of transportation to be used, volumes and manufacturing locations allows us to map out the supply chain.

Moreover, we are able to identify potential bottlenecks and plan end-to-end solutions to distribute vaccines to those in need as quickly as possible. We need to work together with government entities, pharmaceutical companies, NGOs and logistics partners to safely and efficiently deliver a life-saving vaccine.

A sustainable future

One question we have to ask ourselves is: “What happens after a vaccine is successfully manufactured and delivered? What should we as a company focus on to help people and our planet?” One focus is and always should be digitalisation. Yes, it’s becoming a buzz word, but adapting and accelerating new technologies is vital for any business and it bears repeating.

New technologies are drastically changing the way we work from the perspective of improving productivity; repurposing teams to adapt to changing times and needs and supporting the ability to provide a superior level of quality to customers. This has never been more important than right now, when most of the world is working remotely.

As an essential business, we also have to liaise with our customers about our digitalisation efforts. We need to not only invest in new technologies, but also encourage our customers to implement them, such as, for example, our new myDHLi platform, which provides full shipment visibility and control all in one platform.

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