AntTail Ensures Medication Safety with Mendix and AWS
The Netherlands-based logistics technology company takes an IoT-enabled approach to improving accuracy and transparency in the pharmaceutical supply chain
Proper storage is critical to medication potency and safety for the over 275 million people using a prescription drug around the world. Ensuring medication quality is challenging for the pharmaceutical industry due to the complex lifecycle of a product, which requires safe handling as it changes hands from production to warehouse to patient.
AntTail, a Netherlands-based expert in IoT services for the cold-chain logistics of medical supplies, has been delivering innovative products and services to keep medicine safe for ten years. Built with Mendix on Amazon Web Services (AWS), AntTail’s custom Internet of Things (IoT) approach to logistics assures the stability of medicines and vaccines at every step of the supply chain.
“We decided to create something specifically for the pharmaceutical industry that would do away with as much human interfacing as possible. It had to be rock solid and compliant to all the regulations that are in place,” said Mark Roemers, CTO and Co-founder of AntTail. “At AntTail, it’s a matter of trust.”
To deliver on that trust, AntTail has leveraged Mendix to build custom applications for medicine-related logistics with speed, and AWS to supercharge data availability for their Mendix applications while augmenting security and scalability. Today, this spans a portfolio of applications supporting safe medication handling and monitoring at the warehouse, pharmacy, and individual patient levels.
Ninety Percent of the App in Ten Percent of the Time
Roemers built his first application using Mendix in 2014 as part of a bid to a large pharmaceutical company and hospital running a clinical trial in the Netherlands. They wanted to monitor the conditions of medications in patients’ home refrigerators.
“Instead of making a PowerPoint, I actually demoed the whole process on the complete application I made in Mendix,” said Roemers. “I think it took three weeks to build, and we got the order.”
With a front-end and mobile-app development team of only three people and several projects with custom requirements, AntTail relies on the speed and ease-of-use of the Mendix platform to continue to deliver high-quality solutions for customers. “One of the developers comes from a hardware development background and now he’s coding software in Mendix. The other two have evolved from Java to Mendix,” said Roemers.
Contextualizing Data with Mendix and AWS
After determining that Mendix would serve as the application layer for AntTail’s software, Roemers and his team quickly began adapting their offering as their operations scaled. AntTail began incorporating AWS services in their infrastructure, including:
- Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) to meet their vast data storage needs
- Amazon Elastic Load Balancer (ELB) to optimize functionality as data transaction volume increases
- Amazon servers to access an unlimited version of Plotly to visualize data points
“It was really amazing how fast [Mendix] worked, but we had a challenge straightaway,” he recalled. “We have hundreds of millions of data records now, maybe even billions, but that’s in a relational database. That storage mechanism didn’t work for very long, so we had to find alternatives and that’s why we went looking to AWS.”
AntTail now implements one architecture for all its portals, apps, and client-facing endpoints to ensure long-term scalability. Starting with the Mendix interface, customers access data stored in a large Hadoop cluster on AWS. The data comes from sensors in the field, which can produce approximately half a million recorded temperature samples per sensor.
“In the context (Mendix) database, you see whether that sensor was in a box or a warehouse or at a pharmacy or in a patient’s fridge or wherever,” said Roemers.
The closeness and openness between Mendix and AWS has allowed AntTail to evolve how they have leveraged both platforms over the years. “AWS has developed lots of nice tools. When we needed more flexibility with graphs, we decided to go with Plotly… We rented some hardware, put a Plotly server on it, and now we can handle unlimited data points,” said Roemers. “We start condensing data that we put in the plot, and that’s all done on the Mendix side. Then we fire it to Plotly, and Plotly gives us these fantastic graphs back.”
AWS Database combined with sensor memory to assure clients that there will be no unaccountable lapses in data – the kind that cost millions in medicine spoilage by compliance law – and Mendix provides the context and the data transparency with which they can interact.
“We like that everything is already version-controlled inside Mendix, and you can create hotfixes if something goes wrong,” said Roemers. “Also – because pharmaceutical companies love to audit you – we have a complete trace of who checked in what and when and why – it’s all documented.”
A recent mapping project is the first step in AntTail’s plan to move to Amazon’s cloud-based EMR solution. “The move over to EMR will help with scalability and stability, and it’s something that we’re going to do this year,” he added.
Improving Accuracy and Transparency Across the Supply Chain
AntTail has built a reputation upon accurate and reliable products and services for every facet of the pharmaceutical supply chain – from manufacturing, transit, and warehousing providers to patients at home – 90 percent of whom store refrigerated medicine incorrectly.
Resilient and Adaptable Warehouse Monitoring
Warehouses need to maintain stringent standards as well as government permits to store medications before they reach their end destinations. The upholding of these permits relies on providing accurate heatmaps of the entire warehouse and consistently monitoring any changes in temperature which could have an adverse effect on the medications – and result in millions of dollars of product loss.
The traditional method of monitoring is done with wired sensors. “If you have a 70,000 square meter warehouse and need to run wires for all the sensors, that is a lot of cable. If something changes for whatever reason then you need to install either extra sensors or rewire the existing ones,” said Roemers. “That’s a lot of hassle and it’s costly. There are other wireless systems, but they require more frequent battery changes and yearly calibration.”
AntTail’s multi-tenant solutions support both with initial temperature mapping as well as helping pharmacy and warehouse clients maintain compliant temperature logs over time. Sensors measure temperatures in 5-minute intervals and store data on the device, and then Bluetooth sensors automatically synchronize data in the AntCloud servers on AWS.
“The temperature in that warehouse needs to be maintained in a specific range (example between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius), otherwise, you run the risk of product failure,” said Roemers.
AntTail’s connected, IoT-enabled solutions lower the total cost of ownership around monitoring and reduce manual work involved in setup and maintenance. “The advantage of our solution is that our sensors run for 8 years without any maintenance or need for recalibration. You install them once, and if you need to requalify a particular room because you’ve changed things, then it’s basically a push of a button and the portal produces a WHO-compliant mapping report that can be shared right with authorities. It takes about 3-4 minutes to create a new heat map,” said Roemers.
In-Home Monitoring and Patient Reminders
In addition to warehouses and brick-and-mortar pharmacy-specific applications, AntTail has found solutions that bolster consumer safety, solve medical transit logistics challenges, and help prevent counterfeit medicine production.
AntTail developed a consumer-friendly box system that fits in home refrigerators and continuously monitors temperature and light to tabulate when patients take their medication and notify them of any disruptions.
“We can actually see whether or not a shipment has arrived at its destination safely and also whether the box has been opened. People can download and use the app, and those boxes are multi-use boxes, so they ship back to the client to use once again,” said Roemers.
Scaling Business Operations with Mendix and AWS
The adaptability and modularity of Mendix and the sophisticated services available from AWS help AntTail create an IoT ecosystem that is redefining the pharmaceutical logistics industry.
“We have produced about 5,500 sensors. They are used in Azerbaijan, Australia, South Africa, Latin America, the US, and Europe,” said Roemers. “For Q1 of 2023, we already have another 5,000 in our sales funnel, so the growth is really, really fast now.”
The AntTail temperature logging and mapping applications increase transparency, and the implications are visible in B2B and B2C supply chains, global pandemic response, and many other applications, such as warehousing medications and ensuring safety and authenticity in international areas of need. For instance, AntTail managed the logistics of all COVID-19 vaccinations for the country of Uruguay, totaling more than 10 million vaccinations. After the first 12 months of the project, the AntTail team was evaluated by the Uruguayan government and reported 0% data loss over the first year.
“We strive for a transparent cold chain from A to P – where P is the patient,” said Roemers. “Instead of having all these different systems where people have to piece together information – which often isn’t even available – pharmaceutical companies can have a completely transparent cold chain all the way to the hospital or pharmacy by just changing the logistics in a tiny way and adding an Ant sensor to a shipping box. And that creates an even higher-quality system for the patients.”