Seeing More Green with a Greener Solution

Pharmaceutical and biotechnology manufacturers can save money on cold-chain transport through reusable solutions.

The current economic challenges have caused dramatic budget impacts, and nearly every industry and organization has felt the pressure of the current crisis. As operating costs continue to rise, budgets continue to shrink. Whether it is in highly critical research and development or in ongoing marketing and delivery, the impact has been felt and the future looks to be quite austere.

On the operational side, the impact for cold-chain management and transportation is no different. However, regulatory agencies have raised the bar, while management has reduced the budget. The challenge is to find ways to deliver superior performance while reducing overhead and operating costs. This is no small task for the operational and logistical organizations tasked with delivery of critical temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical and medical materials.

Critical temperature-sensitive materials absolutely must be protected during transport. But for a host of reasons, the cost of doing so has never been higher. Soaring and inconsistent fuel costs have driven transportation fees to record highs, the “White Glove” services have raised rates to the point where they are pricing themselves out of existence, and refrigeration trucks, while extremely reliable, are equally expensive and may not handle tight delivery constraints. As a result, proactive organizations are looking for innovative ways to reduce the costs of thermally controlled shipping without increasing potential excursions or raising failure rates. By rethinking the process and embracing several key strategies that increase cold-chain efficiency, bottom-line value can be found and realized. Progressive companies are taking these steps and, with a few strategic changes, have seen dramatic benefits.

New Ideas for Old Problems
Historically, maintaining temperature was accomplished with ice and Styrofoam containers. To keep an item cold in extremely hot environments, you simply put more ice on it. Improved solutions have utilized gel packs, dry ice, and mechanical refrigeration systems, which meant that materials could be kept a little colder for a bit longer. Yet all of these “improvements” serve to drive up the cost and complexity level while only marginally improving performance. Hazardous materials, one-time-use containers, complicated regulations, and expensive powered options all have an obvious negative impact on tighter budgets. What about temperature-sensitive shipments that are delivered to extremely cold environments? How will more ice address this challenge?
 To be truly viable, a cold-chain shipping solution must minimally address several crucial requirements: minimized complexity, complete reusability, and unparalleled reliability.

The new generation of reusable temperature-controlled shipping containers deliver enhanced performance by incorporating superior component parts in a comprehensive solution. The use of sophisticated phase-change materials allows for tighter temperature control. In fact, maintaining previously unimagined temperature ranges are now routinely accomplished. Durations that would not have been considered without significant intervention and sophisticated planning are now commonplace. Advanced insulation technologies are increasing overall performance and can reduce weight while also minimizing the overall footprint of your shipper. 

Good Shipments Come in Small Packages
Another key to improving cost-savings on shipping is to make sure that your cold-chain shipper allows you to maximize efficiency. Containers should fit what they carry to cut down on shipping rates, but should also maximize the payload area to ensure that space is not wasted. One pharmaceutical company found that by switching to a reusable shipper, they gained nearly 25% more payload capacity while reducing the overall weight of the shipment. As a result of this change, the pack-out time was reduced by 10 minutes, which allowed them to get more for much less. Simplicity of use and increased payload mean that more is packed and shipped in a smaller overall footprint, which ultimately results in immediate cost-savings with improved performance.

Why Impress Them with White Glove Solutions
Shipping systems that utilize refrigerated transport or expedited delivery seem to offer a degree of quality and the appearance of compliance, yet only serve to drive up overall costs. Conventional systems, while less expensive initially, have limitations based on the validation or qualification testing that has been done and are typically sent overnight to reduce the potential for failure.
When shipments can be sent standard or second day, they offer significant savings for several key reasons. First, ground transportation is less costly and does not require special planning or coordination. Regardless of the upfront cost, thermal containers with even slightly different time limitations will make a large difference when it comes to calculating freight charges. For example, a FedEx shipment weighing 50 lb and traveling from Minneapolis to New York City costs $196 for overnight, but only $84 for second-day. Transporting it this way results in a savings of more than 50% every time; however, the final cost is dependent on the type of solution that was selected when the original shipping system decision was made. Was your selection driven by initial cost at the expense of overall performance? Did a few pennies saved result in major expense down the road? 
Another significant, yet frequently overlooked benefit of being able to ship with longer, standard timeframes is the ability to ship every day of the week. Thermal shippers that only protect products for a day or two require that all deliveries must occur before the weekend (Friday is a lost day in terms of productivity). By implementing a passive thermal container that will maintain its temperature for up to seven days, it is possible to ship at any time on any type of transport lane, without worrying that the product will arrive safely within its temperature parameters.

Do Not Ignore the Green Aspect
It is no coincidence that what is good for the environment will end up being good for the bottom line. Any shipping method that requires an external power source or materials like Styrofoam and dry ice not only takes a toll on the planet, but also means
that you will pay for those same materials repeatedly and be charged for their disposal (or incur service fees every time you ship). So whatever thermal container is used, it must not only be robust and well designed, but must also be reusable. A key part of your planning must be to establish a well thought out closed-loop or reverse-logistics program that will also help save money by avoiding lost materials and wasted labor.

Never Lose Sight of the Big Picture
Reducing costs and stretching your budget dollars require a careful look at the dynamics and requirements of your specific situation. Many organizations go wrong because they merely analyze individual components of their shipping system—for example, they look at container cost or freight charges without considering the entire process. Labor costs, recycling fees, and container weight all contribute to the total real costs for temperature-sensitive shipments. When comparing thermal solutions, it is imperative that you analyze and account for all dollars, resources, and personnel that go into the potential options.
Because one element of your decision can easily affect other facets of the total package, there are several essential cost-saving strategies to be aware of when comparing options. Selecting a container has cost ramifications that reach far beyond the initial unit price. Each container is different and will produce varying performance results. Frequently overlooked is the “hidden” cost of labor; a container requiring a simple pack-out that reduces labor and improves efficiency can save more than $10 per use.

Stay Focused on What Matters
Finally, selecting a thermal shipping solution with a proven track record of uncompromising performance will not only keep clients satisfied, but also will literally save thousands of dollars every year. The most important consideration should still be to ensure that your high-value, temperature-sensitive materials remain intact throughout shipment. Compromised biologics or pharmaceuticals can represent huge financial and potentially life-threatening losses. For this reason, passive thermal containers should employ tightly sealed vacuum insulation panels and carefully formulated phase-change materials that completely encapsulate critical contents on every side, so that all thermal energy entering the container is absorbed before it has a chance to impact your product. Through reducing temperature excursions by as little as 0.5%, dramatic savings can quickly be realized.
So while the thought of going green seemed to be cost prohibitive, a closer look reveals that the benefits can and will outweigh the initial costs. Tighter budgets and increased regulatory challenges can be addressed while offering an environmentally sound alternative to the age-old shipping methods that have been employed. In the end, your business will benefit, and so will our environment!

Minnesota Thermal Science (Plymouth, MN) provides scientific solutions for the safe transportation of sensitive tissue, pharmaceutical, blood, and biologics products. MTS containers protect contents at defined temperatures. They are reusable, environmentally friendly, and deliver a strong return on investment.

MTS has achieved success worldwide in technological innovation, customer satisfaction, corporate growth, and industry recognition. Winner of the U.S. Army’s Greatest Inventions Award, the AmeriStar Award, and the Tekne Award, the company serves customers domestically and abroad across multiple industries. It offers the Credo product line.

Karl Schlenker is vice president, sales and marketing, for Minnesota Thermal Science (Minneapolis). ■

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