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Pharmacy minister: Automation is the future for the sector

Community pharmacies “have to grab the future” by investing in automation, the pharmacy minister has told C+D.

Speaking to C+D at the opening of wholesaler Sigma Pharmaceutical’s new automated warehouse in Watford, Steve Brine said community pharmacies “have got to embrace technology and embrace the future, because that is what serves patients better”.

“You can see some great examples of community pharmacies that are grabbing the future, and they have all got to do that,” he added.

The family-run Sigma Pharmaceuticals is “a great example of one end of the supply chain” adopting automation, Mr Brine told C+D at the ribbon-cutting ceremony last week (March 22).

However, he also stressed the importance of replicating these technological advances at “the front end of the supply chain” as well.

Sigma’s new facility

C+D joined Mr Brine on a tour of the warehouse, in which he experienced the wholesaler’s automated process of managing and picking orders from stock, and witnessed customer orders circulating on a conveyor system.

The site is the latest opening from Sigma Pharmaceuticals, which employs more than 400 members of staff and serves more than 3,000 pharmacies across the UK and Europe.

Where Sigma’s existing site involved the manual picking of orders and paper lists, the new distribution facility features a fully automated picking machine, created by warehouse automation system providers KNAPP.

“Space was at a premium and – despite their best efforts – our staff found it increasingly difficult to work efficiently in what became a cramped environment,” the wholesaler said in its promotional materials.

Executive director Paras Shah told C+D that founding directors Bharat, Manish and Kamal Shah took a little convincing on the idea of an automated warehouse, and saw “13 or 14” prototypes of the system before they settled on the bespoke facility in Watford.

“Because we’re able to reduce the time pressure on people with the automated system, we’ve had less human errors and less returns,” he said.

The new facility has the capacity to operate at the level of the busiest days of the year – December 23 and 27 – every day for five years, Mr Shah added.

Conservative MP for Watford Richard Harrington tours Sigma’s automated picking system

Do you think pharmacies need to automate?

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