When Sonoco ThermoSafe acquired the PharmaPort 360 product line in 2016, the goal was to take a technology generally regarded as successful, but provide a business foundation (through Sonoco’s existing temperature-controlled packaging business) to support wider use of the devices. It’s taken a couple years of development and buildup of a working inventory, but now the company is announcing its availability. A partnership with United Cargo—and its TempControl service—will make PharmaPort 360 available globally in a leasing program; United says that it is the first North American air carrier with a direct leasing program with Sonoco, and the first to offer one-way rentals of the container. United has 68 stations globally that provide the TempControl service. (Prior to the Sonoco acquisition, PharmaPort ownership had an exclusive arrangement with UPS to deploy the container in healthcare applications, and apparently some version of that service still exists.)
“Given the extensive scope of United Cargo’s TempControl network, this partnership enables the pharmaceutical supply chain to cost-effectively ship across the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific regions,” said Christopher Day, director of global business development for Sonoco ThermoSafe’s Leasing Services division. “Additionally, Sonoco’s 300+ global locations allow the Sonoco ThermoSafe division to quickly and efficiently expand the depot network for leasing PharmaPort units across the globe.”
The PharmaPort 360 is a metal box (80 inches long on its widest dimension) that can accommodate a single US-size pallet. The temperature control is provided by a combination of “eutectic” plates (a composite material that gives off cooling or heating as its physical structure changes); nominally, it can provide tight control of temperature (to within 2°C of its 5°C setpoint) for up to 100 hours at ambient conditions. Except for battery-powered fans, the temperature-control mechanisms are typically shut off while the unit is in transit; and the technology avoids the complication for air carriers of dry ice vapor (another form of temperature control that is a hazardous material for air cargo). Sonoco ThermoSafe also touts the extensive telemetry of the PharmaPort 360, which provides ongoing temperature, performance and geolocation data automatically. Clients can obtain a full picture of a delivery with a few clicks of a mouse, and perform predictive maintenance if necessary. Finally, as Sonoco ThermoSafe noted when it acquired the technology, it is fairly easy to forklift the container onto a truck to complete a delivery; typically, active air-cargo containers stay within the perimeters of airport cargo stations and need to be unloaded there.