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Back Our Hidden Heroes Story 1 – Connecting the dots is our major asset

It’s Monday morning at a small, unassuming office at the Brussels airport. Despite the modest setting, vital work is underway. In this office, and at the adjacent pharma-certified warehouse, the Kuehne+Nagel team are working on one of the most essential tasks currently facing the world. This is Kuehne+Nagel’s core hub for vaccine distribution in Europe.

If distributing the vaccine safely and securely throughout the world is a complex puzzle, then Yordi Van den Brande and Scott Hemeryck are the right people to have on the team. The pair arrive at the Brucargo facility early, ready for another busy and challenging day. They review their schedule together. An inbound shipment of the vaccine is arriving mid-week, which must be received, broken down into smaller shipments and then shipped outbound. It may sound simple, but each of these steps involves numerous strict protocols that must be observed.

Attention to detail is key. With destinations including Canada, Israel and most European countries, there’s a lot of people depending on Yordi and Scott’s diligence. The smallest oversight could mean a delay for the entire shipment. There is no room for error. Yordi and Scott aren’t daunted by the task ahead of them. They calmly discuss the week’s tasks and begin their preparations. The teamwork between the two is instantly recognisable. What’s surprising, is that this partnership is relatively new - they have been working together for just a month.

Yordi, the Contract Logistics Lead of Operations, is no stranger to cold chain logistics. He has both practical and theoretical experience in this area. Yordi was selected for Kuehne+Nagel’s Management Trainee programme after winning the Master Thesis Award Production and Logistics 2021 on this subject. He has been gaining experience working on diverse projects in various locations. When he received the call asking him to work as lead operations for the global vaccine distribution, he leapt at the opportunity. His motivation is clear, “we’re not doing this for ourselves, we’re doing this for the world.” Yordi knew he would need support in this role.

When interviewing people for the position, Yordi asked: “which metric is most important to you when performing a task?” Scott instantly answered: quality. This is exactly the mindset that Yordi was looking for. This focus on precision may stem from Scott’s career background – he is a trained pilot who has worked as a captain for major airlines. In this role, he grew to understand the importance of having a checklist and keeping track of everything - essential skills to have when handling the distribution of a life-saving vaccine. “My experience with checklists and procedures has definitely helped me in this new role,” Scott says. Yordi’s hunch paid off. “I know that if I ask Scott to take care of something, I receive a result that has been double- and triple-checked.” Yordi says.

The stakes are high. If any vaccine is damaged or wasted, this has a direct impact on the most vulnerable people in society. Beyond this, the European Union has a mandate that all vaccines will be distributed fairly to all member states, when possible they should arrive simultaneously. This adds another element of complexity to an already demanding task.

“Imagine a puzzle with many pieces, and every day you rebuild it from scratch,” Yordi describes the process. Once the customer provides the forecast of which orders are expected to be sent, Yordi and Scott consult the road and air freight schedules with their colleagues to find the best routes. They work backwards from freight schedules – once the departure time is known, they must complete all preparations ahead of that departure.

There’s a lot to keep in mind. First, the vaccines have to be picked and packed in passive cooling solutions which proactively have to be preconditioned at -25°C for 72 hours. Then, the temperature loggers must be charged, registered and placed in the shipment. All paperwork must be filled in, checked and then checked again. When you’re transporting freight as important as this, you want to monitor it every step of the way. Each shipment is loaded with loggers that track temperature, shocks, GPS location and other input. These loggers provide crucial information about the status of the vaccine, essential for a product which can only survive for 15 minutes outside of the controlled minus 20-degree cold chain. Each box has three loggers, and a shipment includes multiple boxes. Yordi and Scott carefully note which loggers are in which shipment, and register them in the network.

Putting together the pieces of a complex puzzle is always easier with support, and Yordi and Scott have plenty. The entire Kuehne+Nagel network is continuously and diligently working to enable the timely and secure delivery of the vaccines. “We truly feel that the entire company is with us,” Scott says. With such an intense schedule, that support is crucial. “Connecting the dots is our major asset,” Yordi says, “whenever we need any support, someone with the right expertise is sent from another site.”

With their rigorous approach to quality, inexhaustible perseverance and a network of expertise to draw upon, Yordi and Scott have everything they need to get this important job done. Checklist by checklist, every outbound shipment provides hope to a world that dearly needs it.