How a pharmaceutical supply chain company is taking advantage of the Internet of Things

In 2014, during a routine check from the Ministry of Health in the U.S., it was found that only 55 percent of vaccines were stored and transported in the temperature conditions that ensured the medication maintained its quality. To put that into perspective, every baby born receives vaccines to prevent diseases such as small pox and measles. If only 55 percent of those vaccinations maintain safety requirements, that creates a situation where a majority of babies don’t get the quality dosage and medication they need to protect them from diseases.

To overcome this challenge, organizations are turning to technology. More specifically, the Internet of Things (IoT) is making it possible to ensure the safer transportation and delivery of medications. Dutch pharmaceutical services company, AntTail, is paving the way for building innovative IoT applications that more effectively track the conditions of medications while in transit.  

The team at AntTail built an IoT application using the Mendix low-code application development platform. The application collects sensor data from medication shipments to provide information on temperature, as well as send push notifications to patients with reminders on when to take the medication.

One of the barriers for creating IoT apps is the requirement of many disparate technologies. AntTail uses a central router as a hub for all of the sensors, collecting the data when there is a connection and storing the data when there is no connection to ensure that no data is lost. The Router uses Vodafone’s Managed IoT Connectivity Platform as a way to connect to AWS, and has a Java service running that puts the data into Hadoop.

Hadoop is a means to store all of the data, but it is not complete without the context needed to make smart business decisions. AntTail uses Mendix to add context to the data by assigning roles to each sensor. The app takes into account where the sensor is being used in order to determine the role and assign a trigger.

For example, some sensors are assigned the role of “Last Mile” because they travel from the pharmacy to the patient. These sensors monitor not only the temperature the medication is being stored in, but also the adherence, making sure the patient takes the medication. The sensor is triggered when the patient opens the package and deactivates itself.

Other sensors are placed in warehouses and must be up and running 24/7; if no data is being collected and the sensor is offline for more than 30 minutes, an alarm profile is set up to notify the caretaker. Basic shipments also carry sensors that start at point A and deactivate when they get to point B in order to trigger a notification that the shipment has made it to its destination.

The app can visualize all of these sensors and evaluate the data for any triggers. AntTail uses the REST services module from the Mendix app store to access the full power of JSON-based REST APIs. The module serves three goals: consuming services, publishing services and synchronizing data between apps by combining consume and publish. By using the native REST service, AntTail’s customers can access the data quickly to make important business decisions in real-time.

“It’s lightning fast; I get 10,000 records in less than a second,” says Mark Roemers, CEO and Co-Founder of AntTail.

As a result, there has been a 99 percent success rate in tracking and alarming, keeping the medicine at proper temperatures and patients taking the medicine at the prescribed intervals due to reminders from the app.

Mark says that the next steps for AntTail are to take the app mobile. They are already in the process of building out their mobile apps in order to provide proactive notifications 24/7. For the warehouse manager, this means that even when he is not in front of his computer he will be able to receive notifications if a sensor reports an excursion and can act immediately. With the mobile solution, patients, pharmacists and logistics customers can access and interpret the sensors’ data from anywhere at any time.

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