Temperature Assurance Packaging Rental Programs Defined: Q&A with Andrew Heholt, ThermoSafe

Corporate sustainability initiatives have taken center stage in pharmaceutical supply chain and logistics planning in the last couple years. The traditional view would say logistics is all cost to the pharmaceutical business, producing a lot of waste and pollution. When in reality, smart logistics choices can have a significant contribution to meeting the company’s sustainability goals. Instead of being part of a problem, they are actually a massive part of the solution. 

In this article, Andrew Heholt, Business Development Director and Orion Product Manager at Sonoco ThermoSafe explains how they have seen the new Orion Rental Service taking hold in the pharmaceutical supply chain. We explore the steps for using a Temperature Assurance Packaging (TAP) Rental program and how you may start using it in your pharmaceutical and healthcare supply chains. 

  1. What are some of the reasons you’ve seen pharmaceutical shippers switch to using a box rental service for the parcel shipments? 

Pharma has been operating in a world of complexity.  We have seen our customers switch into a rental service to increase business efficiencies and reduce costs.  A box rental service focuses on various aspects of the customers operational setup, shipping, and sustainability:  

Implementing a rental service into our customer’s shipping and distribution programs drives quantifiable benefits, achieves cost saving targets, and meets corporate sustainability objectives.  

  1. What type of company or products being shipped are ideal for a box rental service? 

We believe that pharma & biotech represent the type of companies which can benefit from this service.  In this highly regulated industry, these companies ship to strict temperature range standards to reliably get their life improving/saving products to patients.  Our box rental service offers multiple sizes and temperature range configurations for our customers to choose from.  The system is modularly designed and uses common components making it simple to be reconfigured for different shipping requirements. These parcel sized boxes are typically used for the following types of shipments: 

There are common parcel sizes which are prevalent in this segment, typically below 40L in volumetric capacity.  The vast majority is being used for shipments where the receiving site doesn’t require specialized handling equipment.  Additionally, the receiver is required to prepare the box for the pick-up and return to the rental station.  Recovery is an important aspect of the service for it to properly function and be available for reuse. 

  1. Why are some people/companies hesitant to use a rental service? 

Despite that rental packaging has been available in the market over the last 10+ years in one form or another, we see 3 main reasons why it has been slowly adopted.   

At Sonoco Thermosafe, we’ve taken apart the concept of temperature-controlled box rental, and put it back together again, fully re-engineered. The result is the all-new Orion box rental service for life sciences, biopharmaceuticals and healthcare. Our solution is simple, smart and sustainable.

  1. So how does the process work, what are the main steps for the customer?  

For the Orion system, there are five simple steps to the rental process.  1) Customers use the self-service ordering portal, ThermoSafe Connect, via any laptop, smartphone, or tablet.   

2) Customers are shipped JIT fully pre-conditioned, ready-to-use rental packaging. 

3)  Customer loads product and scans label to ensure the Orion system initiates proactive collection after delivery.  By having boxes ready-to-use, this significantly reduces labor and inventory management associated with complex or seasonal pack-out configurations.   

4) After delivery, the Orion system initiates an innovative box recovery solution for the scanned boxes. Transport pick up arrives within 24 hours.  

5) Upon return into the rental network, boxes are received, inspected, refurbished, cleaned, and prepared again in a like new state for the next rental. 

  1. What are some of the limitations of past rental programs and how can they be avoided in the future? 

Early generation programs were shiny and new.  They promised reduced packaging and shipping costs.  These programs were susceptible to a variety of problems which plagued early vendors and customers.  Let’s unpack one of the challenges.   

For a box rental service to be successful, the underlying rental fleet must be sufficiently large enough to manage the volume of business.  This considers the length of rental cycle, receiving site dynamics/behaviors to reliably return boxes, losses, and managing the challenges of moving parcels through transportation networks.  Today, the use of technology, the implementation of robust processes, and automation elevate the rental service to reliable levels of operation.  If you would like to learn more about the benefits of the service, we would be happy to have a conversation with you. 

  1. How is the Orion different? 

In summary, I would say: 

  1. If someone wants to learn more about how Temperature Assurance Packaging rental program works, or ready to consider the switch – what should they do first? 

There’s a lot of information available online, good place to start evaluating how the different rental programs compare. The Orion video explains our program very well. Talk to your current solution provider on how you can explore your goals whether it’s better performance, logistics cost reduction or finding more sustainability.    

Transitioning from a solution you’ve had for some time, to a rental temperature assurance packaging may seem complicated. However, when you take a step back and examine your shipping and distribution strategy, rental may be just the right fit you’re looking for. Contact Sonoco ThermoSafe to discuss your current TCO and just how green your future could be.  

Learn more about Orion-r. 

About Sonoco ThermoSafe 

Sonoco is committed to creating sustainable products, services and programs for our customers to support our corporate purpose of Better Packaging. Better Life.  

Sonoco is named as one of Barron’s 100 Most Sustainable Companies, helping 70+ customer facilities achieve ‘Zero Waste to Landfill’ status. 

Sonoco recycles, or causes to be recycled, the equivalent by weight of 65% of the product it places in the marketplace. Learn more about our Sustainability initiatives.  

COVID-19 Unearths the Truth: Cold Chain Has Always Been Challenging

The race to vaccinate against COVID-19 has shot the pharmaceutical supply chain into the world’s center stage. Limitations became painfully clear when manufacturing facilities were not equipped to scale production, consumable supplies ran short, labor shortages, -20C storage equipment wasn’t available, and appropriate controls in the healthcare last miles… is still one of the biggest challenges.  

Two years ago, planning for a pandemic seemed as unlikely as preparing for a volcano ash cloud. Today, the pharmaceutical supply chain has become a more agile, scalable and ready for anything.  

Global vaccination numbers to date 

As of March 2021, over 128 million vaccines doses have been administered.  However, there are huge variances across the globe.  Some countries have very clear vaccination targets about who will get it when, but for most, the plan is less clear. 

This graph shows the progress on total number of vaccines given to date: 

Breaking down the critical components 

How Supply Chain and Logistics are Fundamental to Success

There have been important lessons learned from COVID-19, but for many of us, it’s not news that the distribution of temperature sensitive biopharma products has always had variables, subcontractors, weather, regulations, and countless supply chain risks to deal with every day, every shipment. 

Let’s evaluate some of the core principles and considerations of shipping temperature sensitive healthcare products, that could make or break your product safety and risk as it travels through the global supply chain. 

Make the right transportation choices 

A key lesson from COVID-19 is ensure redundancy and contingency are always built into your transportation plans. Airport delays, single source material suppliers or custom hold ups are not uncommon occurrences.  

Make sure your transport plans are solid in case of delays and that you know the maximum temperature allowance for the packaging and transit that may be pushed to its limits. Companies can engage in scenario planning for different types of events and map out the alternatives that can allow for the supply chain to be restored as efficiently as possible. Companies should also study logistics patterns to help identify alternative providers for each key route, if it would become necessary.  

For some years, the choice of transport mode has been shifting to lower cost options mainly sea freight, road if possible, and now even rail across continents. Diversification of transportation modes is appealing, but certainly there will always be a need for air freight for tight clinical trial timelines, oceans between landmasses and the current challenge of the race to vaccinate.  

No matter what transportation mode you choose, make sure: 

Know your data 

Data makes the world go round; some say. It provides proof of compliance, and as technology develops, predictive analytics, blockchain, AI and M2M will become commonplace. Today, real-time monitoring of pharmaceutical shipments is available today, sometimes not always cost-justified. Complete visibility of increasingly valuable biotech shipments is a massive value and peace of mind that you are protecting a life-saving therapy. Having the ability to track your shipments and identify their location, offers additional choices when supply chain troubles happen.  

Read the DHL case study on making data available and usable for critical decision-making in pharmaceutical global supply chain. 

Optimize your shipping system  

According to IATA, the International Air Transport Association, up to 20% of all temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals are damaged during air transport due to a broken cold chain. ​This could be an indication that there is an imbalance between quality and risk aspects on the one hand, and cost aspects on the other hand when pharmaceutical companies procure logistics services. ​As the cost of discarded products is exponentially higher than the transport itself, the overall result for the company is an increase in spending.​  

Choose carefully which shipping system fits your product needs in the supply chain it would be shipped. The more you use your lane data to understanding your shipment’s journey, the more you can optimize packaging system performance and avoid over-packaging and costs associated with it.  

Work with strategic partners 

Supply chains are not stagnant or static. Naturally as a sum of many moving parts, pharmaceutical distribution risk can be difficult to control. It is important to work with a partner who is experienced in adapting quickly, knowledgeable in pharmaceutical industry and has the resources to support your global supply chain demands and disruptions. This is true for all cold chain partners including transportation, packaging and data. 

When push comes to shove, working with trusted partners who can go the miles with you makes all the difference. In temperature assurance packaging that means working with a supplier that has a manufacturing global footprint that has the resources and flexibility to meet the increased demand, where and when you need. Ensure the packaging provider can cover all your needs as you launch new products, set up new clinical sites, or change distribution routes. They should offer a full range of packaging solutions from parcel to bulk systems, from frozen to refrigerated and CRT. 

What’s next?  

In these unprecedented times, people and organizations are coming forward to help. More people are being trained as vaccinators, competing freight forwarders are collaborating, and international agencies are fighting to mitigate the public health and economic impact to all countries. There are an estimated 10 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines that will require safe distribution globally, a huge challenge of the likes we have never seen before.  

COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), WHO and Unicef. Its aim is to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world. 

When will the world be fully covered? 

If the world is ever to see an end of the COVID-19 pandemic, a large percentage of the globe’s population needs to be immune to the virus.  The next step is to make sure these vaccines are made available to ALL countries in the world, including lower income communities, a very important factor if a large percentage of the global population is to become immune.   

A map showing when countries are likely to be fully vaccinated.