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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Is Bigger Better?


As the saying goes, size matters – especially when it comes to shipping containers – but as Richard Harrop emphasises, we must take care not to get carried away. It’s not often you get the chance to opt guilt-free for the larger size. And as I exit another holiday season, recalling more than one disapproving glance when caught reaching for the mammoth holiday chocolate tin, I am reminded that these chances are becoming fewer and fewer.

Designing systems for temperaturecontrolled shipment often brings the same issue. The cost of transport makes us think more about how we distribute products. We also live in a world that cares about the people in it, and with that comes health and safety. Factors such as these have seen our passive parcel systems shrink in size each year. Please note, however, that I am not suggesting we throw away our safer, more health-conscious guidelines in favour of size. Even using the fingers from both hands (that are still there thanks to health and safety), I for one can’t count how many times H&S has proven to be life-saving. I am simply noting that factors such as these have encouraged developers to seek ways to drive down size and weight.

However, in an ever shrinking world, one thing has been getting bigger and bigger; the passive bulk solution. I recall (fade to black and white) back in 2000, working on thermal solutions for bulk shipment and at that time bulk meant pallet sizes of 1200x1000mm. The pressing requirement was more often not to go larger, but to instead create a smaller bulk system, as the 1,000x800mm pallet was the preferred option for warehouse racking.

What came next was the term pallet accepting. Why should a pallet of product be taken apart only to be then part loaded into a thermal container? Active bulk systems were showing that this was already possible, and with the ever increasing amount of overseas shipments, passive containers needed to become larger.

Today we are seeing passive packaging systems the size of airline pallets, 3,070x2,370mm (for a PMC pallet). More commonly the half size version is used, and not only by logistics service providers; they are also being used at pharmaceutical sites. These airline systems offer huge advantages for bulk distribution, and in some cases switching to this size has increased the volume shipped significantly. However, with everything in one container the risk of loss is obviously higher.

More often this type of solution is seen as a cost saving device rather than something that will improve quality, and I will agree that the cost saving is very positive. But the correct qualification of such devices must not be neglected.

These large systems will be exposed to what we have all learnt to be very harsh environments, and with a much reduced product to coolant ratio (when compared to the four systems it is replacing) the chance of excursion is increased. So, a high level understanding of where your bulk system will be used, how you will be loading it and how long it will be travelling for is key to its success and the safe delivery of your product.

I am a huge fan of these big systems – even after falling into my fair share in the process of developing some of those you see today. They offer massive advantages to our industry. So, while I wonder if I could have squeezed more size-related expressions into my few sentences, and as I continue to hunt the kitchen for the now hidden chocolate tin, I urge you to look at some of the new bulk passive solutions and see if bigger may also be better for you.

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Richard Harrop is a qualified structural packaging design engineer, coming previously from the FMCG sector. He has been involved in the temperature-controlled packaging industry for over 10 years. During this time he has developed and implemented several successful temperaturecontrolled solutions for many of the world’s leading pharmaceutical and biotech corporations.
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