Transporting cold-chain products of any kind is a challenging and risky business. For cold-chain pharmaceuticals, however, the risk is much higher. Failure to store and handle the products correctly risks contaminating the drugs, which may then pose a danger to potential patients. Failure to promptly deliver limited supplies may also result in severe harm or death to patients on the other end.
Finding a reliable, efficient shipping method is critical to getting goods safely from one location to another. Perhaps that’s why ocean freight has earned such accolades in shipping-related industries.
In pharmaceuticals alone, ocean transport has seen a considerable increase, with the International Air Transport Association revealing that 3.5 million metric tons get shipped by ocean each year, compared to 0.5 million via air.
There are several reasons ocean transport is becoming increasingly prominent in pharmaceuticals.
Marine shipping is 80 percent less expensive than shipping goods through the air. Notably, because you can ship more using ocean freight containers, you can fit more products in a single trip. Also, the boxes are well-protected, significantly cutting down on theft.
Some additional factors contribute to lower costs, too. Temperature management can cause a lot of issues when shipping via other methods. But large reefers generally have active cooling systems. Beyond that, there are almost always backups, too.
One of the caveats of large containers is that if the cooling systems fail, or thieves manage to get in, more goods can get lost or damaged. To combat this, most reefers and ocean shipping containers have more robust protection than comparable solutions. Some containers include an alarm that will alert nearby personnel when someone unauthorized accesses them. Others include state-of-the-art security systems to keep the goods within protected.
As for cooling solutions, because ocean trips tend to take weeks instead of days, all cold-chain storage units have ample cooling support. They also have backup solutions in place in case a primary cooling system fails.
It’s more controlled
Because ocean freight containers are in it for the long haul, they have much more pointed controls for temperature monitoring. Satellite systems often ping vital details to a home office or monitoring system. It allows not just the parties transporting the goods to keep an eye on their condition, but everyone else involved in the process, too, including health care professionals waiting at the end.
Continuous monitoring throughout the scope of the trip allows for better preservation of the goods, and gives the necessary parties full control whenever appropriate. Even when it’s not possible to remotely alter settings from hundreds of miles away, anyone monitoring the temperatures can radio the shipping party to make adjustments. It establishes a level of visibility almost unheard of in the cold-chain industry, something that improves the entire operation.
It is especially relevant when shipping biologics, or biological products that must remain alive throughout their journey. Any drop in temperature could mean instant contamination or destruction of the treatments.
It’s better for the environment
Ships — even large freighters — have a much smaller carbon footprint than airplanes, which means they have a reduced impact on the environment. While burning any type of fuel is not eco-friendly, using a lot less still offers benefits.
One pharmaceutical company called Baxter International has reduced its carbon footprint by switching to ocean-based shipping instead of air. In 2017, even while dealing with Hurricane Maria, Baxter saw a 25 percent decrease in CO2 production.
When ocean shipping pharmaceuticals is not ideal
One of the most significant drawbacks of shipping goods across the ocean is time. Air travel is much faster. Of that, there is no question. With conventional products, time isn’t necessarily an issue, so long as the items do not spoil during travel. The proper cooling and climate systems will ensure that doesn’t happen.
With pharmaceuticals, however, sometimes the drugs require rapid transport because the patients need them as soon as possible. Also, some treatments, such as chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, require complex handling processes. First, doctors extract cells from a patient and ship them to a lab for genetic modification, after which they travel back to the patient for the actual treatment. Throughout their journey, the cells must remain in frigid temperatures, or else they will die. Expediting the whole process is quite literally a matter of life and death for patients who rely on the treatment to stay alive.
For these kinds of situations, ocean shipping is not possible. It takes too much time for shipments to move from one destination to another.
Given the appropriate time, however, ocean shipping is a much more cost-effective and better-protected method for shipping goods, pharmaceuticals above all. That’s precisely why ocean shipping is so popular, and why more organizations are turning to it than ever before.