When exactly thermal management comes into play depends on which product it’s being designed for, but oftentimes it starts during manufacturing. Even in the early stages of production, temperature-sensitive products need to be kept within an optimum range.
From manufacturing to initial boxing, to storage, to shipment, to a distribution center (DC), to a store, to the end-user, you need to make sure that the products are kept intact and within an optimum temperature range. Quite often, there are rules and regulations associated with this that mandate by law which rules have to be followed.
For example, if a flu vaccine needs to be held in a certain temperature environment in manufacturing, storage, and shipment, then it should be held in that same environment in a pharmacy when you go to pick it up.
In a sense, thermal management never finishes; it just changes form. At the manufacturing plant, you might have a pallet full of products - maybe a million units. At the DC, it’s a box of 10,000 products. At the pharmacy, they may have 500 units. And you’re only buying one. However, each step of the way, the product is kept within temperature range with whatever method works best: refrigeration, ice packs, coolers, insulated packs, etc.
Obviously, you don’t have sophisticated phase change materials in your home that can use thermal management to keep your prescriptions at a certain temperature extensively. Your medicine might come with instructions for keeping them refrigerated or away from humidity, but that’s all that’s needed.
One of the reasons that pharmaceuticals can be so costly is that they can be expensive to ship. As soon as a new product is created, it’s the logistics manager’s job to ensure that the product is kept safe throughout the entire supply chain. However, many thermal management solutions out there are large, heavy, cumbersome, temperature-controlled shipping containers that take up significant room and cost a fortune to transport.
At its core, and at the risk of overstating things, proper thermal management can often be the difference between life and death. If you’re shipping insulin that’s critical to keep someone healthy and they receive a product that’s not effective because it fell out of temperature range, that person is in danger.
So, it’s really not hard to see the crucial impact that thermal management has on product integrity. Without PCMs and thermal management, important products being shipped all over the world could be exposed to heat, cold and other things that will render them useless – or even harmful to consume.