Learn the advantages and the disadvantages of universal and seasonal pack outs that influence your temperature controlled packaging decisions
The Universal vs. Seasonal Pack Outs Debate
Our previous blog talked about single Vs multi-use packaging. While both solutions have their place, another decision required in regards to temperature-controlled packaging is the idea that some solutions can be universal and others seasonal. Variable conditions that affect the decision includes shipping locations, climate, and customer-specific requirements. Your choice of universal or seasonal pack outs directly impacts weight and size of the solution, it’s direct cost, labor cost of the package assembly, storage cost and freight cost.
Let’s say you are shipping across the US and Canada. In Canada alone, there are 12 climate zones. Winter seasons from harsh to rather mild. At some point you may have to make a choice…Robust, universal packaging system, a seasonal packaging system or using temperature controlled transport to ship at a regulated temperature.
What are universal packouts?
Universal packouts are standardized shipping systems designed to maintain the same packing process, component temperature conditioning methods, across the spectrum of shipping lanes throughout the year.
Standardization though has its positives and negatives. Through consistency, packaging components can be bulk ordered to lower costs. It also means packaging SOPs can be more easily standardized throughout the company. The SOPs just may need to be adjusted slightly based on length of transit or product temperature specifications.
It does not prevent companies from pre-qualifying their packaging to handle a wide variety of ambient, extreme cold, or extreme warm conditions. However, this can require some flexibility across product lines in terms of packaging size or acceptable temperature ranges for the product.
The one-size-fit-for-all approach may also end up in over packaging some payloads and increasing costs more than lowering risk.
What are seasonal packouts?
Seasonal packouts are shipping systems (cooler, outer shell, refrigerants, pack out instructions, etc) that are customized based on the season (or even region) to allow for temperature variations in the packaging’s external environment. This means the type of refrigerant, the cooler thickness, gel pack conditioning methods and even type of transport may change during the year.
Seasonal pack outs can have a negative effect in that you will need different variations of components to adjust for the variations in different packouts. This may, be balanced by better optimization of your components and may reduce the weight of the overall packaging system.
You can also more easily match the required temperature profile to the product being shipped. In the case of clinical trials, for example, where there is very little room for temperature variation, a seasonal packout may be best.
Packaging considerations with temperature controlled transport
Qualified, refrigerated vehicles may be an option to either reduce the amount of packaging or at times eliminate the need for insulated packaging, however, take caution. There are times when a refrigerated vehicle or refrigerated loading and unloading areas just won’t be available. For example, clinical trials may be shipped to a remote town or even just an office where standard delivery routes for temperature controlled vehicles are not available. It’s also possible that an open segment or the delivery location itself is not adequately controlled. This may require a universal packaging solution that can handle both refrigerated transport and variable drop-off/hand-off locations.
The size of the shipment may also have an impact on the cost and decision. A dedicated vehicle, for example, can be used if the volume of shipments is large enough to justify it. Smaller shipments may require a shared load, requiring multiple stops, door openings, or re-arranging of cargo. Even with a dedicated load, you may not choose to totally eliminate an insulated container but may reduce the amount of refrigerant required or reduce the need for as robust a system.
Using temperature profiles and temperature process assessments
The question then arises: How do you decide which solution is best? Initially, your products may have a pre-defined temperature profile that allows for some variation in temperature ranges. If this is the case, then open segments or uncontrolled areas may be acceptable. The main thing is to identify areas of risk through a shipping study or transportation process assessment. During these studies, best and worst case scenarios are tested under real-world shipping conditions using your packaging, your carriers, and your handling requirements. This will help determine if your packaging needs to be more robust or if you can design a solution that can handle those gap areas in your cold chain.
If a temperature profile includes both hot and cold segments, you will most likely want to opt for a combination of temperature controlled packaging and a monitored, temperature qualified vehicle.
Insulated packaging solutions and refrigerated vehicles are not necessarily in competition with each other; instead, they should be complementary resources. Each solution is suitable for certain cases and for certain stages in the distribution of medicines.
Which Packout to Go With – Universal or Seasonal?
Regardless of the vehicle type, the question then arises: How do you decide which solution is best?
Typically, the more universal the solution, the more expensive it becomes. This is due to the need to comply with multiple variations in ambient, cold and hot conditions. The more a thermal package is designed to perform during wide variations of ambient temperatures, the more expensive it gets. Therefore, universal packouts will usually be more expensive than seasonal packouts since the temperatures need to be stabilized and maintained uniformly throughout the year. In addition, universal packouts require more components and have more payload weight.
Seasonal packouts tend to be simpler and cost less, but need to have set policies and procedures related to making the switch from winter and summer. It is easy to choose a period, like daylight savings time, however recent unpredictable swings in temperature extremes during fall and spring seasons make it more difficult to decide which type of pack out to use during these months. This requires testing and training based on the end delivery points, transport modes, and temperature profile data.
Balancing cost with other factors
Balancing your decision takes a total cost approach to your logistics solution. This may include the price of the mode of transport, the container, components and preparation and labor costs. A universal sensible pack-out that is qualified to handle both temperately high and low-temperature profiles typically is ok for most of your real-world shipments. The is specifically true if you have determined during your transport assessment that risks are minimal or that refrigerated transport can handle the task.