Warehouse and packing centre of Novartis drugs. See what automation has changed

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The requirements for storage and distribution of pharmaceutical products are constantly changing. Lead times are shorter and orders are more frequent but smaller. Storage and distribution of this type of products is not easy, as it is necessary to ensure appropriate conditions for the drugs to maintain their properties and effectiveness (e.g. controlled temperature, humidity).

Novartis, a Swiss-born international pharmaceutical and biotechnology company, develops, produces and sells generic drugs, vaccines and anticancer drugs, among others. It was created a quarter of a century ago as a result of a merger of three companies: Geigy, Ciba and Sandoz.

One of the Novartis plants operates in Stryków. A state-of-the-art warehouse and distribution centre also operates there. Recently, the plant management decided to extend the warehouse at the drug packaging centre.

“The idea was to increase the pace of development and sales growth in order to be able to meet the growing demand for products packaged in Poland,” explained Tomasz Marchewa, Supply Chain Management Director. 

The warehouse is an integral part of the plant where the packaging of finished products for distribution takes place. This is important because the location of a warehouse has a direct impact on the functioning of each company’s supply chain, but in the case of pharmaceutical companies, it is particularly important. Novartis has a big advantage in this respect, as its Polish warehouse is located in the very centre of the country, close to important transport junctions.

AGVs took over the internal transport

The warehouse at the production plant is fully automated. It consists of two levels that have different functions. On each of these, the different stages of the logistic process take place.

On the lower floor, the goods are accepted into the warehouse (both raw materials from suppliers and semi-finished products from other Novartis plants). This is where the finished products are released and dispatched for sale in pharmacies.

On the upper floor, apart from the packing room, there is a connection between the warehouse and the plant (transport of semi-finished products from the warehouse to the plant and finished products in the opposite direction is thus fast and efficient). 

The lower and upper floors are connected by two lifts, which are used e.g. when finished products require immediate delivery without prior storage. The transport of goods between the two facilities is carried out by means of automated guided vehicles (AGVs).

Automation was a priority issue, also in terms of internal transport,” the owners of the facility emphasise.

The AGVs perform functions in the warehouse, in which non-automated facilities are performed by traditional means of transport, e.g. forklift or pallet trucks. The advantage of the vehicles is not only their high efficiency but also the fact that they occupy a relatively small space and do not generate unnecessary traffic in the aisles (they move only along their designated routes). 

AGVs transport goods to the automatic wrapping machine. The foil wrapping ensures the stability of the load on the pallet. Labels are also printed in the same place and then applied to the palletised goods to enable their identification.

Novartis eliminates manual handling of goods

The entire warehouse is a self-supporting structure. It has an area of almost 2,000 square meters and a height of 27 meters. On both sides of four 70 m long aisles, there are double-deep racks with over 14,000 pallets (size of each of them is 800 x 1200 mm, maximum weight 700 kg) with finished products, semi-finished products and packaging.

A dedicated warehouse management system is responsible for ensuring that the goods always arrive at the right rack. It allocates a storage location for each product. The Easy WMS software shows the three stacker cranes,

 where to place the goods or from where to retrieve them. These devices operate at 160 m/min horizontally and 46 m/min vertically, and each of them can make 24 combined cycles (24 pallets taken and 24 pallets put away) per hour. 

Automation of the flow of goods has eliminated the need for manual handling of goods, ensuring appropriate safety standards for employees and products, which is particularly important in the case of medicines. 

There are more benefits, such as lower maintenance costs, better control of overall activities and the entire flow of goods and higher storage capacity compared to conventional systems. Automation has also eliminated the need for manual handling of the goods, which has resulted in a lack of errors and a proper level of hygiene.   

The design of the warehouse provides space for expansion when necessary due to increased production and sales.