Sonoco ThermoSafe, a leading provider of temperature-controlled packages for life sciences shipments, has struck an exclusive development and manufacturing partnership with a company called AeroTuf. The latter has carved out its own market for unit-load devices (ULDs) used in air cargo for shipping perishables and other commodities. The AeroTuf technology features relatively light, composite walls, without internal frames, that provide temperature protection. The AeroTuf version, called AeroTherm, ranges in weight from 61 to 135 kg—significantly lighter than the go-to ULD of much of the industry, Envirotainer or CSafe metal cabinets. Other vendors, such as SkyCell or va-Q-tec, have a pallet-scale, passive containers with metal walls. However, the Sonoco version, branded as Pegasus, will probably have different specifications; some of this is still being worked out by the company.
Sonoco ThermoSafe says that Pegasus is the “the first passive bulk temperature-controlled container for pharmaceutical use that is an approved unit load device,” presumably sharing the FAA/EASA approval that AeroTherm has. But this statement needs some qualifying: there are numerous providers of passive, pallet-size shipping containers that the industry uses, in air cargo, including ones from Sonoco ThermoSafe itself; the lack of certification doesn’t bar them from use. Moreover, Envirotainer still provides passive units, if “passive” means that there is no onboard refrigeration equipment (Some of Envirotainer’s units have a battery-powered fan, but cooling comes from dry ice or other cold material; Envirotainer considers this arrangement to be “active” temperature control.)
All that being said, the Sonoco ThermoSafe offering will provide significant advantages in moving through transportation lanes involving air cargo by having the air-authority certification, according to Christopher Day, director of marketing at Sonoco ThermoSafe. “Depending on the carrier, there can be higher shipping costs for a non-ULD container; ULDs are locked into place and are essentially a part of the aircraft, while non-ULD containers require additional handling and storage steps,” he says. Sonoco ThermoSafe also plans to deploy the same telemetry, for near real-time tracking of environmental condition and geolocation that it had previously built into its PharmaPort container.