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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing and Packing Sourcer

Just A Phase

When raising a family, you get used to hearing the saying, “It’s just a phase,” and I find myself applying it often to describe any out-of-character action coming from my rapidly growing offspring. What is rewarding is a positive conclusion to the phase; however, this is usually only achieved by putting the right actions in the right order and following a clear set of rules.

The father in me would like to say this approach offers a 100% success rate, but unfortunately this is not the case. Yet when it comes to the cold chain and managing the change in phase of the packaging materials we use, I can more confidently confirm success and far fewer tears.

In the not-too-distant past, water was, by far, the filling material of choice for almost all cooling packs used within thermal packages. This was because – depending on the thermal requirements – water can be conditioned at a variety of temperature ranges. For example, to maintain the range of +2°C to +8°C, the states commonly required are between -20°C and +5°C. At -20°C, the water is frozen solid, and at +5°C, it is in its liquid, refrigerated state.

In recent years, the supply of phase change materials (PCMs) into the thermal packaging market has increased considerably. Previously, they were thought to be costly and unnecessary; but today, many of the new systems are dispelling these myths.

Clients often raise concerns about how to condition PCMs, as well as asking how to define the conditioned state of the material. These are not new questions, and would have once been answered by handling a simple, water-filled cool pack. But when it comes to introducing a material that is frozen at a temperature above 0°C, should it still be defined in paperwork as frozen and the process defined as freezing? And what consideration should be given to the material’s conditioning? Will a specially made ‘cooler’ be needed?

The answers are rather subjective and can differ from one company to another; however, they should always be reached through inclusive discussion between the necessary departments. Additionally, the use of a new PCM must always be debated early in the development process, so that decisions can be made regarding the impact on the packaging environment and the equipment needed.

Once such things are defined, and these new materials are integrated into a thermal solution, the benefits of size, weight and cost saving are apparent. It is becoming clear that the growing inclusion of PCMs is not just a phase, but rather something that we can be excited to see much more of.

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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 temperature-controlled solutions for many of the world’s leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology corporations.
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