Whenever you pop a pill to help ease aches and pains or take an injection to treat a chronic illness, you’re the last in a long network of people and places—from the producers who manufactured those medications to the distribution centers that delivered them to the retailers worldwide who sell them to consumers.
That network is called a supply chain, and modern companies couldn't exist without them. Companies can’t do their job of sourcing and assembling thousands of components into high-quality products that reach people when and where they’re needed without that supply chain engine humming smoothly and efficiently.
And when you're a global healthcare company with customers and patients who are counting on you to deliver that crucial oncology or HIV treatment, your supply chain not only has to hum—it has to be an industry leader. A souped-up supply chain like the one at Johnson & Johnson.
“We are working to optimize the supply chain end-to-end so that we not only meet the needs of the patient today, but also anticipate and understand how we can meet their needs tomorrow in a transformational way,” says, Vice President, Supply Chain, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, part of the Johnson & Johnson family of companies.
For Supply Management Month, he takes us on a behind-the-scenes look at how he and his massive global team are revolutionizing the way supply chains hum today and well into the future.
Harnessing data to do good
The healthcare industry is rapidly leveraging digital technology to help change the course of health for humanity: Today, 57% of patients use a connected device to share important stats with their doctors, like blood sugar readings or blood pressure numbers. Meanwhile, medical providers are delivering care in equally innovative ways, such as relaying test results and booking appointments online.
This digitization trend has helped democratize healthcare, creating a new generation of patients who are not only more savvy about the services they're receiving, but who are also taking a more active role in their treatment journey.
“Patients today are not expecting to visit multiple doctors, multiple times, over an extended time frame," says Colarusso. "They want instant information and results.”
And the key to meeting those demands can be summed up in one word: data.
“Through compliant means, we are working to gather more data and insights about how we’re currently serving our patients,” Colarusso explains. “It will help us to give them not just a product, but an actual solution that better serves their needs.”
Imagine, for instance, if a pill bottle, with the appropriate security and privacy controls in place, could monitor how often you were using medication and send this info back to a healthcare company or provider to help fine-tune your treatment regimen. Or if it were possible to track and trace a pill to help determine the authenticity of a drug and how efficiently it was delivered to the patient.
These are just two innovative data-driven technologies the company is working to develop right now in the hopes of digitizing—and improving—the customer experience.
Refining every step of the supply chain—digitally and robotically
Data isn’t just important for helping make life easier for patients. It’s also the linchpin of Johnson & Johnson’s vision for a full supply, manufacturing and distribution process that’s completely digitally enhanced, so it can be more responsive, nimble and predictive when it comes to supply reliability and quality control.
This entails implementing innovations throughout the supply chain to provide what Colarusso calls end-to-end visibility.
Innovations such as next-generation manufacturing tools and techniques that are introducing radical changes on the factory floor—a trend often referred to as “Industry 4.0.”
The endgame, says Colarusso, is an advanced manufacturing ecosystem that not only adapts to changing customer and patient needs but serves as a window on the future, enabling the company to chart the changes ahead—and be ready to act when they happen.Share
For example, Internet of Things-based sensors are currently being used by Colarusso's team to collect data from manufacturing processes, which are then fed to analytics systems that can use the real-time information to constantly refine and perfect operations.
Other Johnson & Johnson supply chain teams have YuMi—a collaborative robot that can do certain repetitive assembly tasks to help increase productivity and get products to consumers faster. The robot, which has been employed at a Johnson & Johnson site in France since 2015, is so precise that it can even thread a needle, making its supply chain work highly accurate.
Advances like these can not only enable Johnson & Johnson to quickly identify potential problems in manufacturing, but also help predict them before they pop up.
"The company can apply the same concepts to prevent machine failure—such as with the predictive real-time modeling we do to determine when equipment is starting to deviate from historical process ranges, so we can proactively adjust the equipment before it does so," explains Colarusso. "Before this digitization, there was simply not enough data, nor the ability to process it in real time, to be truly predictive."
Thanks to all of these efforts, the more insight and control Johnson & Johnson can gain further upstream in the supply chain, the more reliably product can be made available to meet demand for it.
Adopting a "slow but steady wins the race" mantra
A supply chain as big as Johnson & Johnson’s is massively complex, with many moving parts. Transforming it through enhanced digitization, while creating continuous improvement cycles, doesn't happen overnight.
The company tasked itself with this digital transformation challenge several years ago when there were few, if any, standards to guide the process—and Colarusso is the first to note that it’s still a work in progress, which is a good thing.
While the company is eager to test new ideas that haven’t been attempted in the industry before, it's equally dedicated to simultaneously maintaining the reliable, robust operation that consumers know and trust.
How to balance the two goals? It starts by identifying the areas where Industry 4.0 tools and techniques can deliver the most impact, then designing and delivering them in a series of incremental steps called “test and learns," while taking careful note of the results. This allows the team to scale the solutions that show promise, while stopping those that do not.
Over time, these steps fold into what Johnson & Johnson calls its operating system—the underlying set of processes that makes the company tick.
The endgame with these digital supply chain efforts, says Colarusso, is an advanced manufacturing ecosystem that not only adapts to changing customer and patient needs but serves as a window on the future, enabling the company to chart the changes ahead—and be ready to act when they happen.