Just-in-Time Dry Ice Manufacturing

Systems can help control waste, improve quality, manage costs, and more.

By Michael Parthenakis
Director, Strategy and Business Development
Cold Jet LLC

The supply chain for dry ice has remained unchanged for decades. In most scenarios, dry ice represents one of the largest consumable costs for companies such as medical device suppliers, pharmaceutical companies, laboratories, and others that use dry ice in their day-to-day cold-chain operations. They must order in advance from a supplier the amount of dry ice they are “likely” to use for a given period of time, without over ordering (increases waste) or under ordering (increases risk and liability). The supplier makes and cuts the ice to the specified requirements, then ships the ice in insulated storage containers to the customer. Unfortunately, what is manufactured and what is actually received and then used are very different things.

Just-in-time dry ice production can reduce costs by about 35%. By making dry ice on site and as needed, companies can reduce the cost per pound by as much as 15%.

Dry ice sublimates at a rate of 5–10% per 24 hours in an ice chest. As a result of the sublimation that occurs during packaging and transport, the blocks and slices on the top and sides of the storage containers can become oddly shaped and must be discarded. In addition, the longer the ice sits on site, the more sublimation occurs and the less quality ice that is available for use, and ultimately, the more ice that is paid for, but wasted.

Fortunately, technology has made it possible for companies to produce high-quality, freshly made dry ice on site while eliminating human error and aiding traceability with auto-loading systems. For organizations where dry ice is an integral part of their cold chain, just-in-time manufacturing can eliminate the middleman while better meeting dry ice needs. Rather than ordering dry ice through a supplier then storing the slowly dissipating sticks, pellets and blocks, companies that frequently use dry ice can affordably store liquid CO₂ on-site and produce the quality and quantity of dry ice  needed for immediate use. Auto-filling technologies can also be used, helping to further reduce waste and manage costs by ensuring that the right quantity of ice is loaded into each container.

The Just-in-Time System
Depending on the annual amount of dry ice used by location, several just-in-time system options exist. An on-site just-in-time cold chain system includes a liquid CO₂ storage tank that feeds a small pelletizer that produces dry ice nuggets. The pelletizer can also be connected to an automated buffer hopper with a level sensor to communicate to the pelletizer when to manufacture more pellets. The size of the buffer hopper will depend on the largest customer dose required, and time-between-dosing to replenish pellets in the hopper. For customers that want dry ice blocks or slices in addition to pellets, a just-in-time system can also include a dry ice reformer, which takes dry ice pellets and forms slices of varying dimensions depending on need. The slices can then be carried from the reformer into an automated wrapping machine and then loaded into insulated storage totes for immediate use.

Just-in-time production systems are safe, simple to operate (one-button start up and shut down), and require very few people to run. Most companies that would deploy these systems, have a firm understanding of the cold-chain process, and would not need much, if any, additional knowledge or training to operate the system. With these systems, customers would go from estimating dry ice demand in advance, to buying bulk liquid CO₂ and making the right quantity of ice when needed.

Benefits include the following:

•    Better waste control.
•    Improved quality of ice.
•    Better managed consumable costs.  
•    Reduced risks of under ordering.
The growth in the biopharmaceutical industry, increased regulation of the cold chain, and the growth in international markets require companies to take a serious look at current cold-chain management processes. If dry ice is part of that process, just-in-time manufacturing can help to alleviate many supply, quality, and cost concerns. Technology in the form of on-site CO₂ storage tanks, manufacturing systems and auto-loading solutions place control of the cold chain back in the end-users’ hands. 

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