More unit-load devices (ULDs) are now available for cold-chain air freight

Envirotainer and Lufthansa Cargo offer LD9 units for carrying up to four pallets of product

At the just-concluded IQPC Cold Chain Conference (Sept. 20-23, Philadelphia), record attendance of over 570 was on hand. Among the many new products and services being showcased were two LD9 (a commercial air size designation) containers for shipping temperature-controlled pharmaceuticals by air cargo. Envirotainer (Malma Lagga, Sweden), which pioneered the category of “active” (i.e, powered refrigeration) containers several years ago, demonstrated the RAP e2 unit, while Lufthansa Cargo (Frankfurt) showed its Opticooler LD9. The key difference is not unit features, but that Lufthansa Cargo only makes its Opticooler available through its own cargo service, while Envirotainer is one of several firms that lease the units to shippers or carriers for one-time or time-defined use.

“Our appeal is for clients who want our complete control over the shipping process,” says Marvin Bourial, global key account manager for Lufthansa. He adds that the company has obtained both FAA and EASA (European) approval for the device. For its part, Envirotainer has developed a QEP (Qualified Envirotainer Partner) program that certifies carriers and freight forwarders for using the device. Lufthansa’s unit is already in use, with the company planning to have 40 available by the end of the year; Envirotainer is readying the unit for an early 2011 introduction.

Envirotainer claims an internal capacity of 6.38 cu. meters, while Lufthansa claims 6.57. Both units have onboard batteries that power a compressor, as well as heating systems for freeze prevention. Envirotainer rates its unit for 0-25°C service for up to 100 hours (between rechargings), while Lufthansa rates its unit for 2-30°C service.

Active containers like these represent the premium service in cold chain delivery. While the unit itself can be expensive (and adds about a metric ton to shipping weight), they provide assurance that a shipment will be kept in a suitable temperature range for the duration of a multiple-leg flights and in some cases, are unloaded, put on trucks and delivered directly to the end destination (to this end, Envirotainer includes forklift slots at the bottom of its unit). Shippers can economize on temperature-controlled overpacking; there is no need for insulated boxes, gel-pack refrigerants or other components. As much as anything, the bigger capacities are indicative of the larger volumes of temperature-controlled products the industry has been shipping.