Reusable Passive Shipping Systems in Pharmaceutical Distribution

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Cold Chain IQ

Passive shipping systems in pharmaceutical distribution are commonly seen as the most cost-effective methods for the logistics of medicinal products, because of the fact they can use water or dry ice and phase change materials, as opposed to other methods which use battery powered supplies requiring a constant source of energy. These are also more expensive to set up in the first place thanks to their complexity compared to passive methods.

The advantages of using reusable passive shipping systems can boil down to two important factors; the difference in cost of these over other forms of shipping systems, and the debate over the environment and the effect that each of these will have on it.

Passive systems, which use methods such as cold water and dry ice in the cold-chain supply to keep pharmaceutical supplies chilled, are far greener than other methods such as active and hybrid systems, as both of these use a constant power source, and as such will not be as environmentally friendly, requiring energy to be pulled from a source elsewhere.

The green debate can also be factored into the decision making when choosing between single-use and reusable containers. According to American Aerogel Corporation, the fact that you can re-use a packaging system over an extended period of time not only makes it cost-effective in the long run, but also serves to decrease the amount of waste produced. This can only be a good thing for the environment as a whole.

The company said that making use of a carbon-based product means that single-use materials, such as polystyrene, which is damaging to the environment, can be removed from the cold-chain altogether.

Another issue which plays heavily in the decision making on passive shipping systems will regard the cost differences between them and other methods. Romero Benjamin of Biopharma Cold Chain Packaging and Distribution Information said that the complexity of the different methods can lead to large discrepancies in cost.

"Active and hybrid shippers due to their increased complexity are typically very costly, when compared to passive shippers," he said, which means that companies can find it far more beneficial to be using passive systems as opposed to hybrid and active systems.

Even within the realm of passive shippers there are decisions to be made, and a key one of these is whether they should be reusable or disposable.

According to Abbott, this decision will depend on a number of factors, including how far the product has to be shipped, and the overall cost of the project.

In terms of distance, disposable supplies, such as expanded polystyrene are often the more effective choice, because of the fact that they are very cheap when compared to other options.

However, this option will tend to only be effective for between 24 and 72 hours. This means that they are the most effective for taking items on a short-haul or local delivery. For longer distances though, reusable methods such as polyurethane and vacuum insulated packaging will be needed in order to keep the integrity of the temperatures over longer periods of time.

The lower cost of passive shipping systems can also make them more beneficial when it comes to the revalidation of the process under the new EU good distribution practice (GDP) guidelines. These mean that any faults which are found in the supply chain need to be removed and rectified straight away, with logistics needing to be authorised under its new classification as a regulated practice.

Because of the fact that they are far cheaper to set up than hybrid and active systems, it will be far cheaper in the long-run, as well as less hassle, given that they are not electrical units, to correct errors which are related to GDP shortfalls.

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