Their acronyms are RAP or RKN – cool containers provided by different producers tailored to the demanding transport needs of the pharmaceutical industry. One of the major equipment providers in this rapidly growing pharma and temperature critical business segment is Frankfurt-based DoKaSch Temperature Solutions GmbH whose fleet of 450 battery driven cool boxes named “Opticoolers” are in constant operation. Soon, their number could go up.
“We are acting in a niche market, but one with a high growth potential,” states Andreas Seitz, Managing Director of the company. This is confirmed by airlines and official data, such as
IATA statistics, showing double-digit growth rates month after month. However, being involved in the cool business is a demanding task in which forwarders, ground handlers or airlines can easily burn
their fingers since errors, once made, can turn out to be extremely expensive. “In this highly sensible business segment that we are part of, a claim could easily run into the millions should things
go seriously wrong somewhere along the supply chain.” Actually, his company’s Opticoolers are very flexible against irregularities throughout the supply chain as the power units easily make an
intercontinental flight including the handling before and after. Although to be on the safe side the firm recommends the recharging of batteries once Opticoolers are transited at airports from the
incoming to an onward flight. By doing this, DoKaSch tries to minimize the risk of a damage of the transported goods due to a mishandling of the cool containers as was the case at an U.S. airport
with another´s company´s container when a shipment of vaccines that got overheated and had to be disposed of as hazardous waste. The damage exceeded a million US$ amount.
Nearly 100 percent performance!
A statement that raises the question if such a technical failure has happened to DoKaSch during his tenure that began in 2013. “No!” he says directly and straight-forward.
In other words, reliability is delivered as promised by the cool box managing firm, proven by the extraordinary performance rate of nearly 100 percent.
So what makes the battery driven Opticoolers a flawless and efficiently functioning ULD, as just claimed by Herr Seitz? “It’s a combination of factors,” he holds, such as the Made-In-Germany technical layout of the boxes, the maintenance rendered by specialists each time a mission is completed, the battery performance, the existence of four compressors to guarantee a constant air flow, where 3 or even 2 would suffice for this task, or an easy to handle control panel that doesn’t require much training by ground personnel to comprehend the functions of the few buttons.
Prior to launching a shipment on a specific trade lane, a risk assessment is made by pharmaceutical shippers. Are airports equipped with adequate cool rooms, what’s their capacity and how qualified is the ground staff that handles sensitive goods? Those preconditions for the appropriate packaging solution is decided by experts after having investigated a certain routing.
Back in 2004, Lufthansa Cargo approached DoKaSch asking to develop ULDs capable of keeping temperatures in their inside at a constant level over many hours. The deal was sealed and done. This resulted in the newest generation of cool containers, the active Opticoolers, which were constantly improved technically ever since. Today, LH Cargo is the only airline that owns an Opticooler fleet, while the other 350 ‘flying cool rooms’ belonging to DoKaSch’s assets can only be leased for a specific shipment by forwarders, shippers or carriers. After, they have to be brought back to their origin as a round trip as stipulated by the lease contracts.
Passive protections are less flexible to environmental and process changes
Andreas has a Lufthansa background and worked until 2013 for ULD manager Jettainer, a subsidiary of LH Cargo (100%). Naturally, it is his job to promote his company’s Opticoolers. But don’t thermal blankets or passive insulation technology often suffice to protect temp sensitive shipments from getting spoiled during transports? Mr Seitz is very clear on this point on these passive means: “It’s depending on the good´s temperature tolerance which packaging solution is the best. Most of the drugs that are shipped with our Opticoolers need to be shipped at a specific temperature level that has to be guaranteed throughout the whole shipping.” Local weather, logistic process, warehouse capabilities, aircraft ops can change within short notice. A passive packaging solution is just as good as the logistic process planning is, with all uncertainties of a global supply chain. In contrast, active containers offered by ULD shippers like DoKaSch, Envirotainer or CSafe Global support a constant temperature no matter where their cool boxes are stored at an airport or within a warehouse or at what climate condition.
Recharging batteries during transits is key
DoKaSch offers customers two types of Opticoolers, their larger model RAP, capable of accommodating up to 5 euro-pallets, and its smaller variant RKN enabling one euro-pallet to be fitted in. Thanks to their battery-driven air condition system, they can sustain ambient temperatures reaching from -30°C to +50°C. Precondition for carriers is that the boxes’ power units have to be recharged during transits at airports. An easy task for the ground personnel since cables equipped with different types of plugs are stored within a small compartment of the containers.
Today, DoKaSch Temperature Solutions cooperates with approximately 20 major airlines and has a global network at its disposal to fly highly temperature-sensitive goods around the world. Each lease contract covers a single transport, with airlines being responsible for returning the units. Once back in FRA at the DoKaSch facility and after thorough data and technical checks the next lease can start.
“We got 450 on stock, including the Opticoolers belonging to LH Cargo but aim at operating 500,” announces manager Seitz. This fleet enlargement is scheduled to happen within this year,” he adds. This expansion will cost his company a larger sum since the price tag for a RAP is comparable with a Mercedes S-Class.
In addition to this, Andreas wonts to grow his company’s business outside of Europe. This requires a geographical spread with new stations to be set up in Asia or America, i.e. at markets with a high proportion of pharmaceutical producers. So far, DoKaSch Temperature Solutions only runs one branch at Seoul’s airport Incheon.
But “more are to come,” Mr Seitz assures.