Pharmaceutical cold chain logistics is a very complex operation with many stakeholders involved. The common goal of all parties is to ensure that the pharmaceuticals maintain optimal quality until they reach the patients. Finding the right temperature-controlled transport always comes down to the product being shipped.
Active or Passive Containers for Temperature-Controlled Logistics
There are many things that can go wrong in cold chain transport, despite thorough preparations and strict controls of your service providers. There may be labor strikes, customs delays, hurricanes, and a range of other circumstances that could have a negative impact on product quality and functionality.
No matter what solution you have chosen for temperature-controlled transport, you have to be prepared for unforeseen events.
For temperature-controlled transport, there are two types of packaging solutions to choose between – active or passive packaging. The difference between active and passive packaging/containers is that an active container has active temperature control, which adjusts the temperature inside the container to keep the specified temperature range.
Active containers have electrical cooling and heating systems or cooling with dry ice. Passive solutions, on the other hand, are insulated boxes or containers without any active temperature control. Thus, passive packaging makes no adjustments according to ambient temperatures, even if the products are delivered in ambient temperatures ranging from +35°C in Dubai to -15°C in Alaska.
The best choice of container depends on the risk profile of your product and what you are willing to pay for safe delivery. Active containers are by far the safest alternative. The costs usually look higher at face value with active containers but they take up much less cargo space and require less handling. A thorough cost analysis could very well show that the price difference is significantly lower than expected when all costs are considered.
Setting the quality aspects of the transport aside, Total Landed Cost, or TLC for short, can be used to compare the costs of different alternatives. For temperature-controlled logistics, costs can be grouped into the following categories:
- Lease/purchase price: Active containers are leased and returned after use. Passive boxes must be bought and stored in advance as well as be preconditioned before use.
- Refrigerants: Cooling material such as dry ice must be bought in advance. Containers using electrical cooling and heating technology do not need any extra refrigerants.
- Temperature monitors: Sensors that can monitor the temperature inside the packaging or container in real time. Often it is not needed for active containers, which has inbuilt sensors for data logging.
- Handling and preparation: Man-hours to assemble and prepare the packaging.
- Trucking: Transportation of the solution from the manufacturing site to the airport or warehouse.
- Airfreight: The cost charged by the airline for the transportation of the products.
- Disposal costs: Costs for disposal of packaging materials and consumables. Materials for passive packages can sometimes be reused but is often disposed of at the destination. Leased containers are returned for reuse.