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Cold Chain Logistics: Monitoring the Most Sensitive Biopharma Cargo

  • November 18, 2021
  • Sopa Soun
  • Reading Time: 3 minutes
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Sperm sample in frozen tank Sensor tags can be used to monitor temperatures as low as -270°C when shipping the goods that matter the most. (Credit: bluecinema/iStock)

Shipping frozen COVID-19 vaccines, vials of blood, human cells or DNA is not like shipping a TV or even fresh produce. Ultra-sensitive pharmaceutical and biological shipments require more sophisticated packaging and more advanced cold chain monitoring technology to avoid the most feared outcome: degradation.

Some of these precious goods must be kept very cold, often below freezing, including during transit. If a temperature excursion occurs en route, the shipper needs to know, in real time to save the shipment if possible. Continuous logging of environmental condition data is also critical for auditing purposes and helps in meeting cold chain compliance requirements.

That’s where cold chain IoT solutions, including cutting-edge temperature sensing tags,  come into play.

Whether a highly perishable shipment is kept cold via dry ice, gel packs or liquid nitrogen, smart sensor tags can be used to read the temperature inside or outside the container. These tags communicate with a telematics gateway that sends the data to the cloud. When that data is pumped to a supply chain management solution, the shipper can be alerted immediately if the temperature goes out of range.

Shipments that require the coldest temperatures, below -20°C (-4°F), require special sensor tags, such as the iOn™ Xtreme Temperature Tag. When attached to a thermocouple probe, the single-use, battery-operated tag can monitor the environmental temperatures of assets in conditions as low as -270°C, colder than dry ice (-78.5°C) and colder even than liquid nitrogen (-196°C). During cryo shipping, the Xtreme tag transmits data to a gateway via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).

When shipping vials in a dewar (a cryogenic liquid nitrogen tank), the temperature inside can be monitored by wiring the thermocouple probe into the container while the Xtreme tag remains outside the container.

To ensure the dewar or other container stays upright, a device with a tilt sensor, such as CalAmp’s SC1204™ multi-use rechargeable tracking device, can be placed alongside the Xtreme tag to monitor the container’s position. It also tracks a shipment’s real-time location, which can help shippers guard against theft, and it has light detection to protect against tampering. 

The SC1204 is also useful for monitoring less extreme temperatures, down to -10°C. It’s handy for keeping tabs on the conditions inside a reefer, for example. When device retrieval isn’t feasible, the single-use SC1302™ temperature and proximity sensor can be attached to individual crates or cartons.

CalAmp’s gateway devices send the environmental condition and proximity data from the sensors to the CalAmp Telematics Cloud, which serves it via an application programming interface (API) to the shipper’s supply chain management solution, providing real-time, end-to-end visibility through transport by land, sea or air. With some devices, ocean and airplane mode provides monitoring of all events, even if there is no network coverage.

Customers who enlist CalAmp’s Supply Chain Visibility services gain access to a supply chain dashboard complete with customizable alerts. If real-time monitoring is needed, a fully staffed command center can provide 24/7 event-based monitoring of shipments as an added service.

Overhaul, a leader in supply-chain visibility for global enterprises, is pioneering the use of the Xtreme tag and has deployed it as part of their full-stack cold chain monitoring solutions for pharmaceutical and other life sciences customers.

“Overhaul’s partnership with CalAmp is helping hundreds and thousands of lives across the globe,” says Barry Conlon, CEO of Overhaul. “Our real-time visibility and risk management platform paired with CalAmp’s cold chain IoT solutions supports the most sensitive populations. From cancer patients to vaccine distributions, both efforts combined can help reduce spoilage, save costs, and most important, enhance lives. We’re proud of the work we do together and look forward to our continued endeavors.”

Today, despite the technology available, too many sensitive pharmaceutical and biological shipments are spoiled during transit for lack of proper cold chain monitoring. When scientific advancement, human health or human lives are at stake, hoping for safe cold chain shipping isn’t good enough. Cost-effective IoT supply chain devices can help prevent degradation and spoilage across multi-mode global shipping routes and during last-mile delivery.

Learn more about CalAmp’s Supply Chain Visibility solutions including devices such as the iOn™ Xtreme Temperature Tag.