Different alternatives for temperature-controlled transport

Breakthrough research in various medical fields, such as gene editing, stem cell technology and regenerative medicine, has led to an increased demand for temperature-controlled transport. High-end, specialized medicine is often produced in low volumes with no backup stock and thus, delivering these sensitive products safely across the globe has become a mounting logistical challenge. Selecting a secure and reliable logistics solution has accordingly become all the more important.

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What are the alternatives for temperature-controlled transport? And what is the actual difference between active and passive containers? This article takes a closer look at the different alternatives for temperature-controlled logistics and other aspects worth considering when choosing a transport solution.

Active vs. passive containers – a definition

According to some, anything with dry ice is a passive transport solution. However, dry ice is just the cooling material, and is used in both active and passive containers, to make sure that the products are stored at a precise temperature interval.

A passive packaging or container can be described as an insulated box. Different types of cooling materials, such as phase change materials or dry ice, are used to ensure that the products are kept at a certain temperature range. A passive box or packaging does not adjust for ambient temperatures. After a certain amount of time, the products must be repacked to prevent temperature deviations.

An active container can be described as a portable refrigerator. Electrical heating and/or cooling are used to keep the products within the desired temperature range. In some containers, dry ice is instead used for cooling and is stored in a separate compartment of the container. A lid to the compartment is automatically opened or closed in order to either increase or decrease the amount of cool air inside the container. Refrigerated containers differ from passive packaging as they can adjust the temperature inside the container depending on the ambient temperature. As long as the batteries are recharged or the container is refilled with dry ice, the container can keep the products at a certain temperature indefinitely.

An active solution for temperature-controlled transport is the safer alternative, but whether extra safety margins are needed depends on the risk profile of product.

Comparing alternatives using Total Landing Cost

Setting the quality aspects of the transport aside, Total Landed Cost, TLC, 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: Temperature-controlled 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 and phase change materials 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. Not needed for active containers, which have in-built 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.

Using TLC, it is easier to compare the actual costs of different alternatives for temperature-controlled transport and then look at quality and risk aspects of the shipment. There are, however, other aspects of the shipment, which makes it possible to optimize the amount of shipped products as well as ensure priority shipping.

Maximize the amount of shipped products – minimize space in aircraft

Space is limited in an aircraft, which means that any solution that can maximize the number of products shipped, but at the same time minimize the total volume, would be the preferred choice.

Passive solutions need a lot of cooling and insulation materials, so you might end up delivering not only products but also a considerable amount of insulation material.

It is important to carefully evaluate different alternatives, for example switching from several smaller containers or pallets to a larger container and so on, to optimize the volume of the shipment. Smaller volumes will reduce costs as well as facilitate the handling of the goods.

Get active and get priority

Active containers are categorized as priority cargo whereas passive alternatives are categorized as general cargo. At peak season, for example at the end of the year, there is therefore a higher risk that passive packages are bumped off.

For low cost, off-the-shelf products this is a lesser problem, but for specialized high-end pharmaceuticals the costs of being rescheduled or delayed can be very high.

Other aspects worth considering for temperature-controlled logistics

Apart from the physical packaging, transport services must also be evaluated:

  • Training: The products will go through many hands during shipment. Logistics providers must be able to ensure proper training of all employees who will handle the goods.
  • Shipping qualification: Some suppliers of logistics solutions can provide documentation that can simplify and speed up the qualification process.
  • Collection and analysis of data: Adequate collection of data is needed both for pre- and post-shipment analyses.
  • Global reach and network: Suppliers of containers and packaging for temperature-controlled transport must be able to provide adequate service and support throughout the logistics chain.

Want to learn more?

Read more about active and passive packaging solutions and download the white paper "3 emerging trends when pharma fights for air cargo capacity in the wake of COVID-19" to learn more about how to choose the right cold chain solution.

Active vs. Passive

What does it cost?

We can assist you with a cost analysis and get an estimate of all direct costs of a temperature-controlled shipment. Please contact your local sales representative, to further discuss the best solution for your shipment.

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Need help?

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Whether you would like to know more about our services or to book an Envirotainer unit, there are many ways to get in touch with us. Contact one of our colleagues for a free consultation and see how we can help you balance quality versus cost. 

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