Recently, The FlexPro Group attended ISTA’s TempPack conference, April 11-13, 2022, in San Diego, Calif. The conference highlighted the demands on the temperature-controlled packaging industry during the surge period of FDA emergency use authorization (EUA) for vaccine and COVID antigen tests.
One packaging technology tool that caught The FlexPro Group's attention was the application of thermal modeling to predict insulated shipper performance. The development of thermal models has accelerated in recent years to address the robust development of novel drugs and immunotherapies together with the growth in outsourcing of active pharmaceutical ingredients with thermal protection requirements.
We have discerned three key benefits of thermal modeling technology for insulated shippers, which we discuss below, followed by a description of this technology.
Thermal Modeling for Cold Chain Shipping:
Thermal modeling is a simulation tool that uses CAD drawings, thermal data, and fundamental heat transfer equations to predict how a package will perform in a given ambient temperature profile. This thermal modeling is a combination of computational fluid dynamics and finite element analysis. The thermal model is created using a database of material and system characteristics, including elements that represent the shipper, the phase change material (PCM,) and the product payload.
This technique allows engineers to draw a 3D model of an insulated shipper and test it virtually through a software model. Computer modeling will provide a map of temperatures throughout the shipper for the duration of the shipment.
Benefit #1: Efficiency
The benefit of a well-developed thermal computational model is the elimination of all the packaging development activities related to environmental chamber testing. Thermal modeling removes the need for physical packaging prototypes, simulated product builds, test shipper packouts, and coordinated laboratory time. Engineers can design the thermal package with the computer and iterate the package design and adjust environmental conditions without waiting for completion of the ambient temperature profile (e.g., 72 hours). An increased number of design iterations can be evaluated, allowing for a robust design evaluation process. This process can indicate what design elements and environmental conditions have significant or insignificant effects on thermal performance.
Benefit #2: Lower Unit Costs
Thermal modeling adds new product payload families to existing designs. The product payload itself is a factor in predicting how a thermal solution will perform. Each unique product payload resists thermal energy differently because of its thermal characteristics, such as product thermal mass, volumetric heat capacity, and positioning within the payload space of the thermal shipper. As the business investigates the addition of a new product family to an existing thermal design, the thermal model can be run with the new payload characteristics to determine if any necessary design adjustments are indicated to maintain the temperature and duration specifications.
Benefit #3: Improved Thermal Performance During Transit
As a manufacturer continues to characterize existing distribution lanes through mapping studies and/or qualify new distribution lanes for their growing product portfolios, new and different warm and cold profiles may be discovered. The thermal model can be run to assess existing thermal packaging designs against new and/or modified thermal profiles.
The manufacturers of thermal protective packaging have developed innovative thermal performance models, and these thermal models have a useful place in accelerating and enhancing the packaging development process. Thermal modeling will not eliminate the requirement for laboratory testing for qualification but will allow more rapid and effective design iteration assessments.
Through our industry engagement, The FlexPro Group's packaging engineers are uniquely experienced to support our clients in their efforts to design, develop, and validate optimal thermal packaging solutions.
Modality Solutions. “Integrating Your Cold Chain Management Systems.” Modality Solutions, Modality Solutions, https://www.modality-solutions.com/resources/. Accessed 22 May 2022.
Cold Chain Technologies. “Thinking Inside the Box: The Benefits of Thermal Modeling for Cold Chain Shipping.” Gold Chain Technologies, https://www.coldchaintech.com/. Accessed 22May 2022.