Seeking Cold Chain Efficiency - Pharmaceutical Technology

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Seeking Cold Chain Efficiency
Medication safety and efficacy depend on maintaining products at the proper temperature.


Pharmaceutical Technology
Volume 37, Issue 2

Bulk shipments. The need to manage shipments of larger volumes of sensitive products is encouraging development of temperature-controlled pallets, totes, and containers. Because less packaging is generally involved, shipping larger volumes can cut material and freight costs as well as the product/company's carbon footprint.

One family of bulk containers maintains entire pallet loads at refrigerated or controlled room temperatures for up to 120 hours. Easily assembled with lightweight insulated panels, the units hold half- or full-pallet loads (including the pallet) and can be single use or reusable. In-house testing confirms that each container performs to shipper or third-party specifications and is delivered with full documentation (Repak line of pallet shippers, Cryopak, division of TCP Reliable).

PUR-insulated pallet shippers with self-supporting panels require no more than 15 minutes for assembly. Patented components provide structural stability and air flow for top and bottom refrigerants. The design is "a first in the industry," says Vicki Arthur, vice-president of Sonoco's Protective Packaging Division, and "can use the same configuration for all seasons" (ThermoSafe SPS Series Pallet Shippers, ThermoSafe Brands, a unit of Sonoco).

AbbVie, the newly spun-off biopharmaceutical operations of Abbott, has adopted Sonoco's ThermoSafe PUR-insulated pallet shippers for 2–8 C shipments from its home base in Chicago to Latin America. Two types of PCM serve as the refrigerant. The PUR/PCM system replaces a PUR/water system, which is itself a replacement for an EPS/water configuration. Requirements included maintaining 2–8 C for 96 hours in summer and winter conditions encountered in the company's preferred transport/distribution model. The shippers also needed to be able to maintain 2–8 C if refrigerated anytime before 96 hours. Tests showed that the system, with small variations in the arrangement of the PCM units, maintains the payload at the proper temperature for 120 or more hours regardless of the season or size of the shipper (e.g., pallet, half-pallet, parcel). Because the PCM weighs less than the water refrigerants used previously, it increases the system's weight-to-payload-efficiency and payload-to-box ratios. The PUR/PCM system also simplifies pack-out, accommodates transport delays, and reduces total cost of ownership. "The shipping system works as well and in many cases better than active shipping systems," reported Arminda Montero, then Abbott's (now AbbVie's) global distribution quality assurance program manager during a presentation in September 2012 at IQPC's Cold Chain & Temperature Management Global Forum in Chicago (3). In fact, the PUR/PCM configuration performed so well on the Chicago/Latin America route that it is now used for all of the company's international shipments.

Cardinal Health has adopted temperature-controlled totes for its 2–8 C products. Available in two sizes, the totes feature an insulating liner and lid of EPS and replace gel packs with two types of pillow-like PCM panels. The orange PCM panels are preconditioned to refrigerator temperatures (to protect from freezing conditions) while the green PCM panels start out frozen (to protect from heat). The orange panels absorb the energy from the green panels (as well as external winter temperatures) and begin to solidify (freeze) at approximately 4 C, protecting the product from experiencing temperatures below the labeled range. As the temperature inside the tote changes, the physical state of panels shift between solid and liquid to maintain the shipment at 2–8 C. Product is bagged to protect it from condensation or a leak of PCM. The nontoxic PCM is derived from renewable resources and considered a bio-preferred product by the US Department of Agriculture (4).


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