Niklas Prager of Envirotainer reveals the challenges facing shippers in the pharmaceuticals industry and explains how one trend will make active temperature control even more popular.
The past decade has seen pharmaceutical products become increasingly sophisticated and, consequently, much more difficult to transport. Products that require a consistent temperature range of 2-8°C have become very popular. Now, the growth in demand for controlled room-temperature solutions calls for even more careful storage and transportation.
For Niklas Prager, CEO of temperature-controlled transportation specialist Envirotainer, this high level of demand acts as a vindication of a major shift in company strategy. Some years ago, the company made the decision to fully embrace the regulatory minefield that is pharmaceutical transportation and it is now reaping the rewards.
"Initially, we were transporting food and other non-pharmaceuticals," he says. "But we saw strong potential in the pharmaceuticals sector and decided to target it. It was a big change, but the right decision. Demand for our services is now very strong and we've established ourselves as the market leader."
Envirotainer provides active temperature-controlled containers for air cargo on a rent-it-when-you-need-it basis across an open-platform global network. In 2011, the company worked with over 400 companies in the healthcare and pharmaceuticals segment, helping to transport 75,000 pallets to 100 countries. Its latest container is the RAP e2, which is designed for the most stringent temperature needs.
"The most striking thing is the material," says Prager. "Other containers are made of aluminium, whereas this one has a composite shell. This makes it more durable and reliable in terms of temperature control. The RAP e2 also benefits from additional redundancy layers. The back-up system contains three batteries instead of two, giving an additional layer of security."
As well as having to develop solutions that can guarantee a consistent temperature, Envirotainer is faced with the challenge of keeping up with ever-changing regulations in both the pharmaceuticals and air-transportation segments. The company works closely with its clients to pre-empt and adjust to new requirements. It also plays a role in their formulation and execution.
"We are involved in all kinds of forums where current and future regulations are discussed and crafted in both industries," Prager says. "I have most of the team making sure that we have the policies and procedures in place so that we comply with all the regulations and that we can help our customers comply as well."
Envirotainer helps its customers stay abreast of developments through its Qualified Envirotainer Provider training programme. The company will examine shippers' operations and certify that they are capable of properly managing shipments using an Envirotainer container. This is part of a wider effort to move customers away from passive solutions with no intelligent temperature-controlling capability.
"We are making sure we capture more of the market by trying to replace passive solutions with active Envirotainer solutions," Prager says. "We are doing all we can to help our customers with this. A lot of trips our containers make are at controlled room temperature and this market will continue to grow. The actual temperature control with these shipments is limited, but this will change dramatically over the next few years. We will look to address the market even more professionally and effectively."
Prager also sees the Asian market, with its rapidly growing consumption and manufacturing base, as increasingly important to Envirotainer's strategy. There are regulatory and infrastructural obstacles to overcome, but good cooperation should make them surmountable. More broadly, the company will continue to expand its already sizable fleet.
"Asia is where we are going to see strong development, in both inbound business and in terms of production moving into the region," he explains. "The problem is that regulatory and customs issues still need work and the cold chain infrastructure itself is not very strong. It will take good collaboration between industry and the local authorities to make things work. Just maintaining and investing in our fleet will always be the most important thing. It's massive already, but due to the strength of demand, we just have to keep on building."