The transferral of drugs and pharmaceutical equipment onto aircraft is a meticulous business. Almost always stored in a cold, sterile environment, the exposure - however brief - of the cargo to high exterior temperatures between the storage facility and the plane can potentially cause an irreversible deterioration in the quality and safety of the medicines on board.
It is with this fact in mind that German pharmaceutical logistics company DoKaSch has dedicated years of research and investment creating the OptiCooler, a mobile storage facility that ensures the temperatures in which the medicines are kept remain constant at all points of transportation.
"No matter where we are - whether it's on the tarmac or on the aircraft itself - these containers are equipped with batteries, so they can run everywhere autonomously for global use," explains Andreas Seitz, DoKaSch's managing director.
The OptiCooler is an active container, meaning that it is capable of having its internal temperature maintained or altered thanks to a power source.
While this is more expensive in the short-term than a passive container, which aims to suspend internal temperatures by means of insulation, Seitz is confident that, in the long run, active solutions are proving more popular among pharmaceutical shippers. After all, the effort it takes to precondition a passive container is considerable.
"You have to set their cool packs at different temperatures," he explains. "First you need to freeze it down, and then you have to heat it up - it is quite a complex process. And you can do a lot wrong when you do the preconditioning, for example, the passive container might be preconditioned for a hot ambient temperature, only for the weather to be cooler than expected. That's when you run into problems."
DoKaSch's OptiCooler allows the user to adjust internal temperatures between 2-30°C, to within ±3°C, in ambient temperatures as high as 50°C or as low as -30°C.
"Once you have the power, and you have power everywhere in the world, then you have almost unlimited runtime," says Seitz. Clients also benefit from in-house simulation of cargo journeys according to a range of specifications, including vibration, handling and temperature stress testing. "We test the OptiCooler at 50°C ambient temperature and see if there's any issue," explains Seitz. "We then provide the resulting data to pharmaceutical companies, so they can easily qualify the unit. That way, they never need to take summer or winter scenarios into account, because once the unit is qualified from -30°C to 50°C, it works everywhere around the glove. It simply doesn't matter if you go through Dubai in summer, or through Fairbanks in winter: it works all the time, provided you have power."
Not that being unplugged is necessarily a problem. The OptiCooler's large battery capacity allows static internal temperatures to be sustained, without the need to use cool packs or dry ice for over 24 hours, which is plenty of time for an external power source to be repaired or sourced. Units are also maintained in a dedicated facility in Kelsterbach, Germany, where visual and structural checks are carried out. "This is the reason why we can maintain an extremely high technical reliability for our products," adds Seitz. Availability is also a priority for DoKaSch, with the company maintaining a number of units for unforeseen demand. "This is a very big advantage for us among pharmaceutical shippers," concludes Seitz.