Reducing the Uncertainties of Product Transportation

New designs in transport packaging help to avoid the major hazards of shipping.

Anthony Coia

DeRoyal Industries addressed compression problems by increasing the stacking strength of some of its 
corrugated boxes.

Although advances in transport packaging have eliminated or reduced shipping damage, four main hazards still exist for pharmaceuticals and medical devices. These include atmospheric conditions, shock, vibration, and compression. Whereas the emphasis on improving package design is geared toward reducing product damage, it is also focused on reducing shipping costs. The latest in transportation packaging products are providing enhanced security and protecting their contents for longer periods of time. 


When it comes to atmospheric conditions, extremes of temperature and humidity in transport and storage are generally the hazards with the highest potential for damage, says Dennis Young. Young is an independent consultant and president of Dennis Young and Associates Inc. (Grand Rapids, MI). �Temperature extremes can cause packaging materials to change characteristics, becoming brittle or soft, which makes them more susceptible to other transport hazards. Some pharmaceuticals and medical devices are temperature sensitive and require temperature-controlled packaging. Humidity affects all paper products and high humidity severely affects paper�s strength due to the increase in paper�s moisture content,� says Young. 

He adds that better techniques in temperature-controlled packaging, otherwise known as the cold chain, are improving control. As a result, pharmaceutical and medical device manufacturers are moving beyond primary pack-aging integrity and integrating transport packag- ing in the total delivery solution.

One packaging manufacturer, EST Global Inc. (Dayton, OH), has rolled out several new products for shipping temperature-sensitive goods during the past year. Says vice president of sales and marketing Mike Sieron, �One is the AcuTemp one-time shipping box, which is a corrugated shipper that includes a phase-change material (coolant) and vacuum-insulation material that is placed between the phase-change material and the product.�

A user of the Acu-Temp one-time shipping boxes is �lan Pharmaceuticals Inc. (San Diego, CA), a fully integrated biopharmaceutical company. The company uses these boxes to ship sizes ranging from 1- to 20-ml vials of liquid pain medication. �lan needs to maintain a 2��8� C temperature range in order to ensure its product integrity.

Says Martin Lo, �lan�s senior manager, packaging engineering and contract manufacturing service, �Instead of using next-day air freight, we wanted to use two-day air or ground service. If we could make it two days or longer, shipping costs would go down drastically. By using this package, we have been able to move to two-day service. The difference comes from the combination of the proprietary gel pack and the configuration of the shipper.�

Says Sieron, �In addition to extending hold times for added product security, AcuTemp one-time shipping boxes reduce the package size by half. They also cut the total shipping costs in half, compared to conventional packaging.�

EST Global will launch its newest product, the AcuTemp Thermal Pallet Shipper, in the first quarter of 2004. This product will provide precise temperature control and security for pallet-sized loads of pharmaceuticals from 0.5 to 60 cu ft. The unit will have both a cooling system for transportation in warm climates and a heating system for transportation in cold ones, according to Sieron.

TCP Reliable Inc. offers a range of phase-change materials designed to maintain typical storage conditions. Temperatures from �50� to 27� C can be maintained, and the firm invites pharmaceutical firms to suggest other temperatures so it can develop materials for those conditions. 

In late 2003, SCA ThermoSafe introduced two models of cryogenic liquid-nitrogen dry-vapor shippers. The CryogenicShipper-DG can transport diagnostic specimens, and the CryogenicShipper-DS can carry infectious subtances. Both can be used to store and ship products at or below �150� for up to 16 days. Requiring no exterior packaging, the shippers are designed to prevent leaks with a screw cap that seals in residual liquid nitrogen yet allows vapor to vent. They can be fully recharged in about four hours.


Young says that shock is an intense but rare event that often causes such damage as breakage of primary packages or the products themselves. Fragile products, including electronics and devices, may experience breakage that can be either evident or hidden, and shock may contribute to in-operation failure of these devices.

A solution to avoiding shock damage comes from Sealed Air Corp. (Saddle Brook, NJ). The firm manufactures packaging that protects medical devices and pharmaceuticals particularly against shock and vibration. Bill Armstrong, technical development manager, says that the fastest-growing packaging segment is for products that provide void fill, bracing, and cushioning. �Because products are going directly to the user from the distribution center, there is no way to predict the exact conditions that they will encounter,� he says.

A new product from Sealed Air is its inflatable bubble wrap, introduced in 2003, which provides cushioning that addresses the hazards of shock and vibration. A machine inflates the bubble wrap and the unused rolls of film are stored separately, taking up less space than the inflated product. This product is used both for pharmaceuticals and medical devices.


Young says that vibration is a long-term but low-level hazard. Accordingly, the damage caused to packages and products tends to be rubbing, wearing, abrasion, scuffing, or similar fatigue damage. �The results are abrasion damage to labels, punctures, or wear of lid stock, pouch materials, etc. Diagnostic devices, especially electronics, may be subject to fatigue damage or electronic component failure, resulting in out-of-the-box failure (DOA) or short-term failure,� he says.

Armstrong points to truck travel, in which a whole stack may be subject to vibration. He says, �The bottom box may be crushed from the vibration. The inflatable bubble wrap protects again vibration. The more fragile an item is, the more likely you would use inflatable bubble wrap.�


AcuTemp shippers from EST Global Inc. include a phase-change material and vacuum-insulation material to protect products from temperature changes. 

Boxes need to retain their dimensions during transit. A weakened box can lose its dimensions, which can cause outer-package collapse, bringing the weight of the stacked load to bear on the product. 

In the fall of 2002, Sealed Air introduced Fill-Air inflatable packaging systems, a void-fill product different from its inflatable bubble wrap that supports the box by keeping its structural integrity. The inflatable plastic system fills air into individual bags that are connected on a roll. A machine fills the bags, and the unused film is stored separately, which takes up less space than storing filled bags.

DeRoyal Industries (Powell, TN) has recently addressed the compression problems that it was experiencing. Packaging engineer Kristi Belter says that one of the more prominent issues in recent years has been damage to its corrugated cartons. �This can be attributed to various factors, including having our pallets broken down by the transporter or freight forwarder, and many others. These conditions lead to crushed or otherwise damaged boxes and, occasionally, unsatisfied customers. While the product inside is rarely harmed, a damaged box that transports medical products is as much a perception issue as it is a quality issue,� she says.

As a solution to this problem, DeRoyal has increased the stacking strength of some of its most-used corrugated boxes �to reduce the damage caused by not only rough handling but also the effects that humidity produces during EtO sterilization on our boxes,� Belter says. 

Each box that was altered was evaluated based on box size, specifications, and other factors. These calculations provided DeRoyal with the compression strength that would be necessary to minimize the damage. �Then we compared different flute size and ECT (edge crush test) combinations in order to obtain the compression strengths that we had previously determined would meet our needs. Over a one-year period, we had a 37% reduction in the damaged cartons that were reported,� says Belter. 

Packaging manufacturers have introduced a variety of product options that are designed to protect against the four primary hazards of distribution. Many of them are advances in existing technology as opposed to revolutionary technology. In addition to lower damage rates, the results may also include lower shipping costs such as savings in transportation and storage costs for packaging material. 

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