Thinly veiled but fully protected

Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2019

DuPont’s Tyvek air cargo covers offer unrivalled scientifically proven protection for temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals demanding extra care on air and while in transit from one point to another till safely delivered to their final destinations.

The global pharmaceutical industry continues to grow with rising demand across continents. And new innovative solutions to keep the therapeutic potency of these products while on air and in transit en route to their final destinations are evolving.

In the Middle East where harsh weather conditions require special attention and equipment in transporting certain products via air, land or sea, innovative products offering protection for sensitive pharmaceutical shipments like medicines, vaccines and other life sciences products continue to be utilized.

In the UAE, the pharmaceutical market sales have reportedly reached $3.1 billion in 2018 from only $2.4 billion in 2015. The increase was largely attributed to sales of prescription meds.

The UAE is estimated to have imported around Dh14.9 billion worth of products as part of pharmaceutical products (HS 30) from the world market in 2018, according to data from the UAE Federal Customs Authority.

But one of the biggest problems faced by shippers of pharmaceuticals relates to the need to keep shipments within the safe temperature bands required by prevailing legislation and best practice.

According to IATA, nearly 60% of temperature excursions occur during these ‘uncontrolled’ air- cargo stages of the distribution process.

Dr. Steve Brabbs, DuPont Global Technology Leader for Transport Protection, explained to Air Cargo Update in an email interview how Dupont’s Tyvek air cargo covers provide advanced protection to temperature sensitive pharmaceuticals.

He said the Tyvek range of thermal pallet covers are designed to address acknowledged weaknesses in the cold chain such as the problem of ‘ tarmac standing time ‘ where shipments of temperature sensitive goods are left standing in fluctuating ambient conditions during the airport loading, unloading and transit phases.

Combating threats

Brabbs said there are currently three different Tyvek thermal pallet covers available on the market, Tyvek Solar W10, Tyvek Solar W20 and Tyvek Xtreme W50 with further versions under development.

With temperature sensitive medicines the merchandise must be kept within carefully defined temperature envelopes during long- haul transportation to ensure they retain their therapeutic potency and consumers are not put at risk from dangerous or ineffective products.

In these cases, the unique reflective properties of Tyvek have been shown to keep shipments considerably cooler, by as much as 15 degrees Celsius, through the minimization of solar gain.

In the case of products, such as vaccines and insulin, which must be protected from cold temperatures, the insulated Tyvek Xtreme W50 version provides an excellent thermal buffer.

Strong and tear-resistant, Tyvek pallet covers also give excellent protection from tampering, rain, snow, wind, pests, debris and airborne contamination. The opaque white color of the covers provides additional security by shielding cargo from view and the smooth one-piece design readily provides a visual indication of irregular tampering.

Made from inherently breathable Tyvek fabric and materials all pallet covers can continuously evacuate water vapor to minimize condensation risks.

Tyvek vs. traditional covers

Essentially, Brabbs said Tyvek pallet covers are light, low bulk, thermally efficient and breathable. Alternative covers based on voluminous bubble wrap and multi bubble foil constructions are always going to be more difficult to store and more unwieldy to handle.

These air-bubble dependent covers are also liable to make a noticeable contribution to airfreight costs due to their volume adding to dimensional weight charges.

Instead of using a high bulk, easily damaged array of air bubbles for thermal insulation, the low-bulk Tyvek Xtreme W50 pallet cover employs a high thermal-efficiency fibrous layer.

This is not only much more thermally efficient than a bubble configuration of equivalent dimensions, but can also be unpacked and fitted in place in as little as 90 seconds.

Storage and transportation are made very easy due to the fact that such covers come multi-packed for very low storage space requirements, and they are typically around half the weight of a bubble foil equivalent. “ Most cargo covers ( thermal blankets, pallet covers) work by insulating the cargo from the outside environment, slowing the flow of heat from the outside to the cargo inside. We, instead, employ the extremely high reflectivity of Tyvek for sunlight, which is usually the main cause of heating on the airport tarmac, to throw that energy back into the environment so it never has a chance to penetrate to the precious goods under a Tyvek Cargo Cover. That means Tyvek Cargo Covers can be thinner, lighter, more flexible and easier to use than other pallet covers,” said Brabbs.

“ In fact, many packaging engineers’ first response when they touch a Tyvek Cargo Cover is that it is ‘too thin to be effective’, which leads them to believe that it is just a rain cover. But when they test Tyvek Cargo Covers, they find they work like magic, and are as good or better on the tarmacthan much thicker traditional pallet covers. But it’s not magic, it’s science,” he added.

It is worth noting that today’s increasingly multi modal freight haulage can be very demanding physically on a cargo cover. Handling damage is never completely avoidable, however – so if it does occur, it is important that it is visible and that minor detriment does not materially reduce the protection
being provided.

Unfortunately, damage to bubble- based materials is not always visible and yet can seriously compromise its thermal performance. It must be remembered that any air bubbles that are punctured will completely lose their insulative properties.

The thermal integrity of fibrous insulation, on the other hand, is not nearly so easily compromised when subject to minor handling abuse. Small penetrations effectively ‘self- heal’, while minor abrasions have no
detrimental effect on performance.

The natural permeability or ‘breath ability’ of all Tyvek pallet covers is another distinguishing feature. Perishable shipments are of ten exposed to fluctuating temperatures as they are moved between controlled and uncontrolled storage areas and between different transport modes.

These varying temperature conditions directly impact the levels of relative humidity and inevitably lead to condensation being formed as a consequence.

Recent comparative exercises between breath able and non breathable cargo cover materials have provided ample evidence of this condensation, potentially adverse, occurring with non-breathable materials during long distance air and truck transportation, even where overall temperature variations had been relatively modest. By contrast, the vapor-open material used in Tyvek breathable covers showed no signs of below-surface moisture

Good for the freight industry
Recent reports indicate that many pharmaceutical products are now being transported to market by sea rather than air, not just for reasons of thermal consistency, as you might expect, but simply for reasons of cost.

Ocean freight are said to be 80 percent cheaper than airfreight.
With some airlines charging fuel surcharges based on chargeable weight rather than actual weight, shippers are starting to look more closely at the volumetric implications of their cargo protection.

The use of Tyvek pallet covers can make a worthwhile contribution to overall freight cost reduction, not just because of their high performance, but also because they exhibit low bulk and weight, and because they are easy to store and very quick to fit. For example, a standard euro-pallet Tyvek cover can be fitted or removed in as little as 60 seconds.

“Thin and lightweight Tyvek Cargo Covers pack small, so one box of them is typically equivalent to a whole pallet-load of traditional covers, in terms of the number of pallets of pharmaceuticals which can be protected with them.
That gives an immediate savings in warehouse costs. Much more significant is the reduction in labor and training costs, and increase in warehouse throughout. Their material and design make Tyvek Cargo Covers so easy to install, taking less than one minute to fit to a standard pallet, which is why warehouse managers love our covers,” said Brabbs.

“Lastly, many thicker thermal blankets add so much to the outer dimensions of each shipping pallet that the freight forwarder can no longer fit as many as normal on an airline pallet. That means more space is taken up in the aircraft hold, and that translates directly into higher freight charges. Tyvek Cargo Covers are so thin that the added size is not an issue, and even on our thickest Xtreme W50 covers, the structure is compressible so they don’t prevent loading the normal number of pallets together.”

Optimal cost saving solution

In a recent survey, 94 % o f respondents said that the finding of cost-effective temperature control services and solutions is one of their biggest challenges.

Like most things, it is not simply a case of considering the initial price; it is a question of considering the performance of a solution against both its initial purchase cost and its costs in use; in other words, its ‘whole life cost’.

Only by considering all the associated costs and benefits, tangible and intangible, associated with a product over its life cycle can an informed choice be made concerning the optimum product or solution for a specific need.

“It depends, of course, on the sensitivity of the product and the threats experienced along the route. For most circumstances, Tyvek Solar W20 covers are the solution of choice, often with the optional pallet bases which limit ingress of air into the bottom,” explained Brabbs.

“In more extreme or high-risk situations, and especially when there is potential exposure to high and low temperatures on the route, Tyvek Xtreme W50 covers are the better choice. Many users have both in their arsenal and switch between them depending on the season or product. There are, of course, situations where we would not recommend Tyvek, nor any kind of cargo cover for that matter.”

A ‘passive’ cool chain element

At present a significant proportion of pharmaceuticals are transported with a ‘protection’ comprising a simple covering of stretch- wrap or bubble-wrap.

This is a wasteful exercise in itself since these materials are rarely re- useable and, even more seriously, they have been shown to contribute to un necessary temperatue deviations by causing serious heat gains through ‘greenhouse’ solar gain effects.

The elimination of the wastage that results will make a worthwhile contribution to minimizing unnecessary carbon emissions. The pallet cover solutions from DuPont also offer a superior strength to-weight ratio, which potentially can reduce energy use in transportation compared to heavier competitive products.

The use of very low weight materials results in less energy and resource consumption, and less material waste at the end of product life.

And that’s not all. As a ‘passive’ cool-chain element, these low-mass covers do not require any power or energy consuming preparation and, compared to alternative pallet wrappings and covers, they are more energy efficient than alternative 150 Micron films, bulky bubble wrap or corrugated cardboard protection and material, and, as a Grade 2 polymer, are 100% recyclable.

In 2017, DuPont announced a new courtesy recycling service for Tyvek Pallet Covers and at the moment the scheme is being rolled out across the US before being extended to other markets. The scheme is the latest step in the company’s commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship and will ensure that all Tyvek customers have access to a satisfactory end-of-life solution.

The Tyvek recycling service supports the contention that with many thermal cargo covers, the efficient reclamation of single-use covers is kinder to the planet than attempting to juggle the numerous environmental deficits associated with re-usable covers.

The drawbacks of re-using covers include expensive, CO2-generating return logistics and the need to manage and finance rigorous product checking, repairing, cleaning, decontamination and testing regimes.