Advanced airfreight tech enables access to medicines & vaccines
In common with many other types of pharmaceutical products, vaccines have to be stored and transported within tightly specified temperature limits.
The timely launch of Envirotainer’s Releye RLP container in May 2021 was therefore great news for COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers looking for fast, reliable deliveries to locations around the world.
Featuring Vaisala temperature and humidity sensors, the Releye RLP had an enormous impact in the market, offering customers a wide range of features beyond accurate, verifiable temperature control. Envirotainer’s long-standing mission is to enable access to life-saving medicines. Vaisala Sales Manager Janne Halonen explained: “Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Envirotainer had already conducted a survey of major stakeholders, including pharmaceutical companies, airlines, forwarders, and regulators to define current and emerging needs for the airfreight of pharmaceutical products. This analysis identified five clear requirements for shipping containers that were either not currently met, or fully optimised, and these were fed into the product development program.”
The result of this development was a true market disrupter. “The Releye RLP was launched to deliver precise temperature control with built-in redundancy, remote monitoring capability and unsurpassed autonomous operation in a cost- and space-efficient solution that improves the sustainability of airfreight,” explained Bachar Chadaideh, Senior Product Manager at Envirotainer.
For temperature-controlled transport, there are two types of packaging solutions – active or passive packaging. The difference between active and passive packaging/containers is that an active container has active temperature control, which adjusts the temperature inside the container to maintain the specified temperature range.
Precise temperature control
Pharmaceutical products are generally high in value, but if they are subjected to temperatures outside of their specification, they can be rendered worthless. It is vitally important therefore that cargo is protected from extremes of temperature throughout its journey from manufacturer/ distributor to customer/ user. Temperature measurements and datalogging help to determine whether cargo has been maintained within the correct temperature limits, but data from in-cargo dataloggers has to be collected and downloaded retrospectively. The development team at Envirotainer was therefore determined to take temperature monitoring and control to the next level, so an assessment of Vaisala’s sensors was conducted.
Following a thorough evaluation, Vaisala’s HMP110T temperature probes, as well as the HMP110RH+T temperature and relative humidity probes were deployed in the Releye RLP to ensure measurement accuracy. These probes were chosen for their high performance, long-term measurement stability, low power consumption, and fast response. The HMP110 probes also feature a stainless-steel body classified IP65, making it a robust choice for demanding environmental conditions. By providing validated measurements, the Vaisala sensors ensure that data can be utilized by a wide range of stakeholders across the pharmaceutical value chain.
Innovative, efficient design with built-in redundancy
The containers have an extensive air flow and temperature regulating system that ensures homogeneity of conditions, independent of size, mass, or load position, and regardless of exposure to extreme heat or cold ambient conditions. The monitoring is supported by eight internal Vaisala temperature sensors, one of which also measures humidity. In addition, there are two external Vaisala sensors monitoring ambient temperature and humidity. Time can be saved, and human error can be prevented with preconditioning before loading, and the temperature can be locked to prevent accidental changes during shipment.
Supported by vacuum insulated panels, a state-of-the-art wall/ceiling heating and cooling system means the entire cargo space maintains the same temperature, and the regulating system has full redundancy on all critical parts. If the container doors are opened, a novel air flow curtain reduces temperature impact to ensure that the cargo is unaffected. The innovative design of the Releye RLP container also enables the maximisation of space efficiency, which accommodates three pallets with an industry-leading cargo height of 132cm.The latest addition to the Releye family, the Releye RAP, which was launched on 9th February 2022, is raising the bar for volume efficiency and sustainability even higher.
Each Releye RLP is supplied with its own rechargeable power supply, so that it is able to operate autonomously for over 170 hours (more than a week) without recharging. This is an important feature because these containers ship over continents and can undergo changes of route and delays at customs or during handovers. The ability to maintain effective temperature control during unforeseen delays is therefore a major advantage.
Temperature settings such as limit values or pre-conditioning can be managed by an intuitive keypad/screen on the Releye RLP, but users are also able to connect with their containers remotely and securely using any smart device. This live monitoring of position, temperature, battery level, humidity and door openings, allows users to continuously track shipments as well as the status of their cargo. Customised alerts can be configured so that users receive early notification prior to cargo arrival, which enables process improvements and delivery planning. This also leads to quicker investigations of risk assessments relating to counterfeit, security concerns or shipment processes.
With live access to shipping data, users of the Releye RLP gain peace of mind and assurance that their cargo is being maintained in the correct conditions. This facility is also ideal for simple and fast global qualification, which saves time and costs, and helps improve freight logistics as well as responses to customs requests.
In order to implement effective temperature-controlled shipping, it is necessary to be able to take accurate measurements with stable sensors that maintain high levels of performance over time. Shipping containers have a long lifespan, often more than a decade, so the critical components of the Releye RLP, such as the sensors, need to provide long-term reliability.
During the product development phase, Vaisala worked closely with Envirotainer on a number of levels; providing help and advice on issues such as sensor deployment and validation. “In many ways, Envirotainer is a similar company to Vaisala,” explainedJanne Halonen. “Both companies constantly seek the highest levels of performance from their products, and both companies have a clear focus on efficiency, reliability and sustainability.
“We are extremely proud that we were able to support the development of these innovative new containers; not least because the delivery of temperature-controlled products during the COVID-19 pandemic helped to meet global demand for the rapid, safe delivery of vaccines which saved many thousands of lives.”