A cold chain is something you might not know, but you certainly know what a supply chain is all about. Since many of us know what a supply chain is, it is not too tricky to understand what a cold chain is and its functions.
A cold chain is a particular supply chain in which products move from one place to another at cold temperatures, typically between 36 to 46 degrees F, or at even lower temperatures of -85 degrees F.
You can regard a cold chain as a temperature-controlled distribution chain that usually highly regulated industries such as food and beverage, pharmaceuticals and chemicals, to transport their products from one place to another.
Components of the Cold Chain
There are three principal components of a cold chain which are:
Usually, a cold chain transports temperature-sensitive products from one place to another. The products need specific temperature ranges and humidity conditions to remain potent. There have to be the proper mechanisms in the cold chain to maintain the requisite temperature, depending on the duration and method of transportation.
Origin and Destination
Akin to any transportation process, a cold chain movement also has an origin and destination, which are the critical factors for transporters to consider. The longer the distance between the source and destination, the more challenges to keep the vaccine consignment at the right temperature. During transit, transporters can use gel packs or insulations to keep the products cool, but temperature fluctuations arise. But, things become accessible once the consignment reaches the final destination, where there will be refrigeration facilities to keep the products at the right temperature range.
Reefers, or cold transport vehicles, transport temperature-sensitive products and maintain stable conditions as the consignment moves from the origin to the destination. Transporters can use refrigerated shipping containers to keep their consignment during transit. Alternatively, they can even use a distribution network based on cold storage facilities in the supply chain to keep products in multiple refrigerated facilities. It can also happen that they need to keep their consignment in a refrigerated warehouse while waiting for shipping overseas or arriving at an intermediate location for processing and distribution. They might also need to keep their consignment close to the destination market for distribution.
Active and Passive Cold Chain Packaging
Active and passive are the two types of cold chain packaging systems. Let us know about them.
Active systems comprise transport containers with advanced electric or battery-powered temperature control systems. Usually, such systems bear built-in cooling units or depend on dry ice as a coolant. There is also a mechanism to push cool air from the refrigeration system into the main payload area. Active systems are ideal for larger shipments because they offer more security to the consignment that minimizes theft risk.
Passive packaging systems consist of polyurethane or polystyrene insulation or vacuum-insulated panels to keep the product at a predetermined temperature for up to 96 hours or longer. Such systems score over the active systems regarding maintaining tighter temperatures and are not sensitive to internal freezing. However, there are disadvantages to the passive systems. There arises the need to condition the refrigerant to specific requirements. When it comes to complex shipping consignments, there is a likelihood of passive systems failing to maintain the requisite temperature if the shipment does not reach the destination with the required packaging specification.
Importance of Efficient Cold Chain Transportation to the pharmaceutical Industry
A high degree of efficiency in the cold supply chain is a must when transporting pharmaceutical products because it maintains the potency of the products during transit. What is important is that any breaks in the cold chain can damage the consignment, making the products unusable. A damage in a pharmaceutical consignment can entail substantial losses for the manufacturer.
There are digital devices to track temperatures in effective cold supply systems and have lesser hand-offs between the origin and destination. Besides, there are standardized temperature zones to maintain the integrity of the products in transit.
Usage of cold supply chains for pharmaceutical transportation has been on the rise for the last few years.
Some pharmaceutical products that need cold chain transport are vaccines, asthma inhalers, and insulins used to treat diabetes. Moreover, biopharmaceuticals, or biologicals, such as blood or plasma, organs, tissue transplants, or stem cells, also require cold supply chains for transportation. They should be kept at temperatures between 2 to 8 degrees C., And some pharmaceuticals need temperatures of -40 to -45 degrees C.
All parties involved in pharmaceutical products transportation through cold chains should take adequate care in keeping the products in a temperature-controlled environment. If they fail to maintain the right temperature, it can lead to a public health issue, if not detected, apart from incurring substantial financial losses.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers and healthcare facilities should analyze the cold supply chain data to ensure that the pharmaceutical consignment has remained potent and can effectively use the products.
Cold supply chains usually use gel packs to maintain the prescribed temperature. Gel packs are substances that change their phases. They become liquid from solid and back again to the liquid state to control the temperature. At the start of the journey, gel packs remain frozen or refrigerated, but they melt into the liquid state during transit to capture escaping energy and maintain the internal temperature.
Moreover, some biologicals, like organs and tissues, need a freezing environment during transportation. As such, transporters should keep such items in dry ice or deep freezer systems to maintain their potency.
Transportation of special pharmaceutical products, like COVID19 vaccines, needs freezing temperature environments. As such, transporters should use cold storage units, like an ultracold freezer, to transport such items.
Thus, we have known that the transportation of temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals calls for an efficient cold supply chain. Transporters should do the due diligence of selecting a reputed and dependable manufacturer to purchase their cold chain equipment.