In a world of temperature-controlled containers, active or passive, every supplier can claim to offer something unique or bespoke to potential customers. However, the PharmaPort 360 container from Sonoco ThermoSafe has some features that are genuinely innovative, and which offer real dependability – vital considerations for potentially life-saving bio-tech shipments and vaccines.
Firstly, unlike many active containers on the market, PharmaPort 360 doesn’t use traditional refrigeration methods, but rather a patented system with a hot and cold plate that can be fully charged in 12 hours to offer a stable 5°C inside for 72 hours in an ambient temperature of 30°C. That can add flexibility to journey times and routings.
A fan that runs as soon as the unit is unplugged circulates air from the stored thermal energy of the plates, which are exposed from behind insulated vacuum panels as the thermostat dictates. ‘This enables us to be super-precise in terms of temperature,’ says Chris Day, Director of Global Business Development at Sonoco ThermoSafe.
‘Because the fan is always on, the temperature gradient is smoother, while with a compressor you require spikes of energy and you get more of a zig-zag temperature profile over the course of the shipment,’ he adds.
Significantly, and unlike compressor boxes, PharmaPort 360 boxes do not exhaust hot air, so they can be stored next to perishable shipments and transported in an ambient truck, which can help with cost. Day adds: ‘We have several customers that use them solely on trucks to combat extreme temperatures and stop excursions on journeys to remote locations.’
That infers a degree of ruggedness, and there are certainly fewer moving parts than in some. ‘I’ve been in the active container business for a number of years and when they fail, there are two reasons – mechanical because the compressor fails or because of a human element. That might be that it’s not programmed properly,’ says Day.
As the PharmaPort 360 is set to operate to one temperature – +5°C, which covers 80 per cent of biotech shipments – it doesn’t require programming. ‘You plug it in and you unplug it– that’s it,’ says Day. ‘The people on the floor love it because anyone can use it. It can use any local power supply and it travels with a bag of 10 different adaptors.’
Real time data tracking
But one of the features that really helps the PharmaPort 360 stand out from the competition is the integrated network of sensors and transmitters. Day says: ‘We have sensors that are capturing data all the time – the temperature inside and the ambient temperature outside the container, plus GPS positioning and all the mechanical functions, like battery life, and the energy levels in the thermal plates. We are recording and transmitting this data all the time.’
Well, not quite all the time. PharmaPort 360 is approved by the FAA because each is fitted with an accelerometer, altimeter ‘and an algorithm’ that can detect when the aircraft is taking off. At that point transmission stops, but recording continues. ‘On landing, it switches the transmitter back on and sends out a batch transmission.’
The data is dense and accessible. Day says: ‘We can replay every trip and if there are investigations, we can get answers in minutes rather than months, and we keep the data for five years. Quality assurance departments and shipping people love this, it’s so transparent. This is a generation ahead.’
Cathay Pacific was able to test the effectiveness of the PharmaPort 360 on a regular shipment of high-value bio-tech products from Amsterdam and San Juan to Sydney via Hong Kong. Over an 18 month period and 463 flights, the internal temperature of the PharmaPort 360 never varied more than 1.2°C above and 0.1°C below the 5°C setting, despite the range of ambient temperatures en route.
It was this reliability in service that led Cathay Pacific to formalise its arrangement with the supplier earlier this year. Gary Sze, Cargo Products Manager for Cathay Pacific, says: ‘Since we started working with Sonoco ThermoSafe, we have been very impressed by the temperature stability and consistent performance of the PharmaPort 360. We’re proud to offer this innovative product to our customers.’