Why Vendors Keep Choosing the Wrong Thermal Management Companies
If you’re looking for a thermal management partner to work with, it’s important to find a company that has a broad approach to thermal management challenges. By that, we mean that they’ll work with you to understand what your requirements are rather than selling you what they have available.
To do that, they should have a strong R&D team that can develop products from the ground up for exactly what you’re trying to achieve. That involves testing and validating all solutions to ensure that you can safely and effectively deliver your products to your end-users.
It’s also important to find someone who wants to be a long-term partner with you, not just sell you something and then walk away. They should be providing you with data so that in the future if you get audited, you have everything readily available.
Avoid This Common Mistake
One common mistake we see people making is finding the quick and easy solution that’s perceived to be “tried and true.” While those solutions may work, there are challenges you’ll have to overcome from the very beginning.
First of all, supply chains have changed dramatically over the past few years and it’s very likely that any “tried and true” solution that’s been around for a while will not meet your expectations for sustainability. Think high CO2 emissions, not using recyclable materials, etc.
One Size Does Not Fit All
There are many vendors out there who offer thermal management options, but they outsource their data loggers to someone else because it’s not something they know. And vice versa! You deserve a partner who can handle both sides of the coin and will handle the full picture for you.
If you need something specific, you don’t want an off-the-shelf product that’s premade. Your thermal management solution should work around your needs, not the other way around.
Where Things Go Wrong
Having the wrong or underqualified thermal management partner can lead to a lot of problems, including spending too much money, having a solution that doesn’t fit your needs, using products that aren’t sustainable, and dealing with damages to your reputation.
And, the absolutely worst-case scenario is that the products you’re shipping have the wrong thermal energy management solution, are not protected properly, and become dangerous to the end-user. If you’re taking shortcuts on the thermal energy side, it’s not a question of if, but when.
The Science Behind Thermal Management
In simple terms, thermal management comes into play when any person, place, or thing that either needs or desires to be temperature controlled.
With proper thermal management, we have the ability to manage or control that temperature and manipulate thermal properties of the object or its environment.
Interestingly enough, human beings have always had a general understanding of thermal management, whether or not we recognized it. We jump in the water or turn on a fan to cool down and sit by the fire or grab a blanket to warm up.
What started as a rudimentary understanding has gotten infinitely more sophisticated now that we understand the science behind it. And now we're to the point where we have computers that can customize these amazing solutions to meet unique and specific needs.
Instead of doing these really intense iterative experiments by hand, we’re now able to put computations into software and run algorithms and simulations. It’s an amazing feat because in the past these would have taken a tremendous amount of time to check these things manually, which also leaves a lot of room for human error.
Let’s Look at the Science
If you think about a solid object at a molecular level, they have all of these molecules that are really closely packed and slow-moving. They're very dense. When that moves into a liquid, they become free moving particles that take the shape of the container that it's in.
Bringing you back to high school science class, right?
As the object continues to heat up and turn into a gas, they basically become hyper particles that are super fast and not constrained at all. And you can play around with pressure and temperature to get different variables. For example, if you have something that's in a contained area and you increase the temperature on it, eventually the pressure is going to build up and it's going to pop open.
And it all comes down to that molecular level and what's really happening. When we talk about phase change material, it is the molecules themselves that are changing, which changes their state.
As our understanding and capabilities around thermal management continue to grow, we will be able to deliver solutions that are more active, have higher connectivity, and are totally green and environmentally friendly.
Considering a Thermal Packaging Solution? Read This First!
When you think about the words “thermal packaging,” you probably think about heat and might assume that thermal packaging means shipping something that’s hot.
However, thermal packaging speaks to the transfer of heat. There are three main ranges for temperature-controlled packaging, including refrigerated (2℃-8℃), controlled room temperature (15℃-25℃), and frozen (-20℃).
Of course, there are needs that don’t fall within those ranges that require custom applications, but typically this what you see in most cold chains. This is important, especially when shipping items like food or pharmaceuticals because if they are exposed to temperatures outside of the desired range, they could be rendered useless or even harmful to consumers.
If you need to ship a product that needs to be kept within a specific temperature range, you want to make sure it’s guarded against both heat and cold.
Thermal Packaging Management
When it comes to cold chain applications, there are two types of shippers that are commonly used. A Universal shipper, which means that the design is meant to be used year-round. This is useful because that type of universal application allows shippers to be flexible and save costs by using the same solution all year. The other type of shipper is called Seasonal, in which you use a different design based on the season, one design for winter and a different one for summer.
It’s important to understand both options upfront and know which is best for your needs and budget. The approach you choose will have a dramatic impact on the final cost and size of your shipper because it’s a trade-off between cost and complexity.
One common mistake people make is deciding that they want a universal shipper that does everything, regardless of season, contents, distance, or temperature range. These solutions are understandably expensive and you may be paying for benefits that are not needed. If you’re looking for a more economical solution, you probably want a seasonal application.
Which option you choose will likely be heavily influenced by what it is that you’re shipping. Biologics and medical devices, for example, have mandated requirements. Other items, like food, while they have regulations that are heavily monitored, have much thinner profit margins. These two industries will have different shipping needs and will incur different costs. Knowing all of the factors around your product and its requirements will help you make your decision on the best thermal packaging solution for you.
Why Thermal Energy and Brand Integrity Go Hand in Hand
In the words of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room.”
As we’ve seen far too often, a business can operate with total efficiency and integrity for years and have its reputation ruined by one mistake or bad event. We’ve all seen the headlines in the news about restaurant chains that have been shut down because of dangerous food preparation practices.
When you’re shipping something that’s temperature-sensitive, whether it’s across town or across the globe, there are so many chances for that shipment to be exposed to extreme temperatures. When that happens, the best-case scenario is that your products are no longer viable and need to be destroyed. The worst-case scenario is that they’re dangerous to consume and someone gets hurt.
That’s where thermal energy and phase change materials (PCMs) come in. Depending on time of year and what the product requirements are, PCMs allow you to maintain specific temperature ranges for the entire shipment – from production to the doorstep. This is especially important for things like pharmaceuticals and food that absolutely cannot be allowed to be exposed to temperature excursions or humidity.
In the past, and in some cases still today, simple ice packs are enough to maintain that temperature. Especially if the logistic turnaround is less than 24 hours. However, if you’re shipping something much farther – like to another country or a different climate – then you need more sophisticated methods of thermal packaging.
As we’ve seen recently with the COVID-19 pandemic, global supply chains are vulnerable to disruption. However, people still expect to get their products delivered on time and intact.
That’s why it is critical to be prepared when it comes to protecting your shipments with PCMs and the beautiful science of thermal energy. In the end, your products ARE your brand.
All it takes is one bad shipment, one angry review, one news article and it will spread like wildfire and potentially do terrible, lasting damage to your reputation. That can be very hard to recover from.
You might be reading this and thinking, “Totally get it, makes sense, but it doesn’t apply to my company.” However, just because you aren’t shipping something as expensive as medical devices or potentially harmful as food, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t place a premium on protecting your brand’s integrity.
Unfortunately, sometimes perception carries more weight than reality. Even if it was a fluke shipment that was stuck at Customs for a few days because of a one-time event that was completely out of your control, that’s all people will remember about your brand.
Sustainable Thermal Management Solutions for 2020 and Beyond
The biggest thermal management trend both right now and heading into the future across all industries is sustainability.
Sustainability can mean a lot of different things: reducing carbon emissions, organic and recyclable materials (no more styrofoam), smaller boxes, reducing overnight delivery, streamlined supply chains, and more.
Some of these seem quite obvious and intuitive like recyclable material and carbon emissions, but how does a streamlined supply chain improve sustainability?
Well, when you think about it, a streamlined supply chain means as few touchpoints and as little transit waste as possible. One of the things we’re starting to see is more direct to patient deliveries with the advent of new biologics that are being sent directly to the customer.
When a consumer receives packaging week after week, month after month, they might get fatigued over managing the recyclability of the large packaging that's been used. Suppliers are figuring out new ways to provide the consumer with compostable solutions so there isn’t a huge waste of material building up.
Keeping the packaging as sleek and lightweight as possible is important, too. The lighter the package is, the lower the carbon footprint of whatever vehicle is transporting it. And to take it a step further, the more compact a package is, the more of them can fit in a single shipment so fewer vehicles are used to transport them.
However, this challenge gets even more complex when you consider that many of these products being shipped need to be thermal-regulated to keep them in a specific temperature range. That means this packaging has certain requirements that make it harder to fit in small, compact containers.
In a world where people are ordering 2-day shipping for their products on a daily basis, it’s incredibly important to the environment that we look for every opportunity to look for eco-friendly solutions.
The good news is that we can tackle these challenges head-on with cutting edge technology and thermal management solutions. It’s important to remember that no two shipping routes, products, or end-users are identical so custom-built solutions give more flexibility to achieve your goals while also keeping sustainability top of mind.
Understanding Thermal Management
Thermal energy is the total kinetic energy in a given system. It can come from a variety of sources such as chemical reactions, friction, or solar power – all of which can be used in the supply chain.
Many people use the terms thermal energy, heat, and temperature almost interchangeably when talking about thermal management. However, the terms are related, but not interchangeable.
Temperature is the AVERAGE kinetic energy (movement of atoms or molecules) within an object, with the units ⁰F,⁰C, or K.
Thermal energy is often defined as the TOTAL kinetic energy in a given system, with the units BTU, calories, or joules.
For example, if you have 1 liter of water at a temperature of 25C and you have 2 liters of water at 25C, both containers are at the same temperature, but the second container has 2X the amount of thermal energy as the first container.
Heat is the flow of thermal energy due to differences in temperature transferred either through conduction, convection, or radiation. Thermal energy always flows from warmer substances to cooler substances.
Thermal Energy and the Supply Chain
Understanding key factors such as temperature, thermal energy, and heat is critical to designing a thermal management system for shipment and storage of temperature-sensitive products. Whether you are shipping vaccines that need to be held at 2-8C, a medical device at 15-25C, or a live animal between 20-28C, thermal management is of the utmost importance.
When deciding on a thermal management solution for shipping, logistics, and supply chain, there are several considerations that must be taken into account. Transit time, transit temperature conditions, and temperature the product needs to be held at are all key considerations.
In creating a thermal management solution, you are essentially working to minimize or stop the transfer of thermal energy from a warmer area to a cooler area in order to maintain the temperature around your product. This can be accomplished using either active or passive thermal management systems.
Examples of active systems include using refrigerated trucks or temperature-controlled chambers. Passive systems include things like insulated shippers or thermal blankets.
In the case of passive systems, material selection plays a large role in the performance of the thermal management product. Materials such as various types of insulation, Phase Change Materials (PCMs), Vacuum Insulated Panels (VIPs), and foils are all commonly used.
Each year companies lose billions of dollars due to waste associated with products not being maintained at appropriate temperatures.
Implementing thermal management solutions to protect products throughout the supply chain not only saves money, but also improves customer satisfaction, and results in higher end-user trust.