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RCATP Part 1: Optimizing Packaging for Temperature-Sensitive Shipments

Life Sciences


This blog is the first in a series of three that explains how analyzing the temperatures of the in-transit environment through Risk-Controlled Ambient Thermal Profiles (RCATPs) can improve the quality of products in the supply chain. This blog focuses on the role of tertiary packaging in protecting temperature-sensitive products during the shipping cycle and how RCATPs help to reduce risks through better packaging design.

Major concerns for manufacturers and shippers of temperature-sensitive products include product loss or damage and the associated risks of shipping goods through the supply chain.

The Eighth UPS Pain in the Chain Survey from UPS, a global leader in logistics, discussed exactly how critical this issue is and how important packaging is with healthcare logistics executives, and this is how they responded:

  • 63% of the executives surveyed believe that a core supply chain issue is product damage and spoilage.
  • 47% say that increasing regulatory requirements involving cold-chain or temperature-sensitive packaging are driving up costs.
  • 48% stated that their success in attempting to control product damage and spoilage is with thermal packaging and containers.

Clearly, thermal tertiary packaging can play an important role in protecting the quality of temperature-sensitive products as they move through the supply chain. However, this kind of packaging is often either over- or under-engineered, which can increase supply chain costs and decrease product quality and efficacy. Understanding the effects of temperature in the in-transit environment can help to improve the design of tertiary packaging that protects products from adverse temperature variances and help to reduce supply chain costs and lessen overall risk.

Why the right packaging is important

Adverse heat gain or loss by exposure to ambient temperature over time during shipping can affect the ability of a temperature-sensitive product or its packaging to withstand temperatures that exceed a defined ideal range. Exposure to temperatures outside of a product’s ideal range can impact product quality and efficacy.

When products or packaging are compromised, there are costly ramifications, including those associated with the manufacturing of replacement products, pack-out assembly and transportation. In addition, there could be loss of retail revenue, along with other related expenses such as quarantine, testing, disposal and brand equity damage. A worst-case scenario is if compromised product reaches the consumer.

How proper packaging can help

Thermal tertiary packaging, which protects goods during shipping with materials such as corrugated boxes, insulating materials, and phase-change materials, can effectively reduce many of the risks noted above.

To design optimal tertiary packaging, it’s important to determine what an ideal and acceptable shipping time and temperature range is for the specific tolerances of a particular product. Packaging designers can then use this data, along with other design considerations, to develop shipping materials that have the greatest potential to maintain product temperatures when exposed to ambient temperatures in the real world.

Factors such as shipping lane, time of year, and level of shipping service can result in an extremely wide range of ambient temperatures, from as high as 60°C to as low as -20°C.

This is where a Risk-Controlled Ambient Thermal Profile (RCATP), a methodology developed by Sensitech® Inc., comes in. It provides a statistical analysis of time-temperature data during the phase of packaging design where thermal packages are tested in a temperature-controlled chamber.

By collecting an appropriate dataset of time and temperature data via an RCATP, packaging designers can analyze the distribution of expected temperatures in a particular shipping network, then predict and quantify the potential thermal risk.

Packaging designers can use the data in this analysis as parameters for creating packaging prototypes that can maintain a specified temperature range of both temperature and time that will help reduce risk.

The differentiating method of an RCATP

Supported by Newton’s law of cooling, Sensitech’s RCATP approach uses a risk-weighted evaluation of variable temperatures as a means of quantifying the risk of a temperature excursion. It provides a more comprehensive analysis of time and temperature data from a shipping network than most Ambient Temperature Profiles (ATPs)—and here’s why.

Typically, ATP data is collected for creating ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ season profiles to minimize the cost of packaging and identify when it is appropriate to transition from packaging for a hotter or colder season. However, most ATP methodologies don’t show what happens on a cold day in a hot season, or a hot day in a cold season, as they don’t measure the full range of temperatures during a season.

To provide a more comprehensive insight, the RCATP methodology uses two profiles, or a profile set. The two profiles in a set contain one profile representing the upper or hottest expected trip, and a lower profile representing the coolest expected trip. Armed with this comprehensive data, package testing can be on the full range of temperatures—both highs and lows—that can occur within one season or across multiple seasons. The RCATP methodology gives packaging designers a higher level of confidence that the chamber-tested packaging will withstand all ambient temperatures within a given supply chain.

The benefits of the two-profile approach

The two-profile approach of an RCATP analysis provides significant benefits over other methodologies:

  1. More comprehensive. As a consultative process, the RCATP methodology helps companies consider a wider array of variables than other approaches. An RCATP analysis can potentially include data on product stability, product cost, process cost, distribution options and service levels, as well as packaging and design costs.
  2. Better cost/risk analysis. With the RCATP methodology, companies can assess product failure and excess logistics costs while minimizing the total cost of distribution. For example, an RCATP analysis allows companies to measure the cost of maintaining quality by providing protection via thermal packaging and specialty logistics services. Companies can compare the cost of such protection against the risk and projected costs associated with product quarantine or loss due to the negative effects of thermal exposure.
  3. Greater insights into acceptable risk levels. An RCATP analysis can also help companies define their supply chain requirements to determine what kinds of investments are needed to maintain product quality, consumer safety and regulatory compliance. Companies can identify and weigh various trade-offs, and intelligently define the level of variability or risk they are willing to take. For instance, companies can determine what an acceptable level of risk is for a specific distribution network, and create an iterative package design process to help optimize distribution costs against an informed risk tolerance. This approach can also inform a variety of choices in designing other factors in a distribution system, such as the selection of lane clusters, transportation mode, and shipping service levels.

To help you understand how Sensitech’s RCATP methodology can deliver these benefits, the next blog in this series will provide additional details about this comprehensive methodology.