USAMMC-E improves cold-chain management, efficiency with new shipping containers

By C.J. LovelaceSeptember 22, 2023

New cold-chain shipping solution at USAMMC-E
Benjamin Rippelbeck, a forklift operator at the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Europe, loads a pallet of temperature sensitive medical products into a new temperature-controlled shipping container Aug. 16 at USAMMC-E. The new pallet shipper system, recently put into use, provides more cargo space and better temperature stability in transit down to minus-60 degrees Celsius for up to 120 hours. (Photo Credit: Courtesy) VIEW ORIGINAL

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- Proper refrigeration is a crucial component of cold-chain management for medical materiel.

During the shipping process, however, that can become a challenge.

To ensure temperature management in transit for life-saving blood products, vaccines and other medical supplies, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Europe recently started using a new bulk shipping system for temperature-sensitive medical products, or TSMP, that can provide temperature stability for up to 120 hours.

“Some of the shipping lanes in Europe and other regions can be challenging, so we needed something that provided us more than the standard 72-hour stability window,” said Kenyatta Moses, TSMP coordinator for USAMMC-E.

USAMMC-E is a direct reporting unit to Army Medical Logistics Command. It serves as a theater lead agent for medical materiel and provides integrated medical logistics management in support of U.S. European Command and U.S. African Command, as well as U.S. Department of State activities throughout its area of responsibility.

The new cold-chain shipping system is pallet-based and has universal capabilities, Moses said, with temperature-holding capability ranging down to minus-60 degrees Celsius with dry ice.

“Our primary use and reason for purchasing these new pallet shippers is to ship medical materiel requiring temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius,” Moses said.

The center has successfully made two shipments -- with a combined total of 2,509 items worth over $1.1 million -- to the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Southwest Asia using the new system, but with influenza season now in full swing, weekly use is anticipated.

The new system provides additional efficiencies over previous methods, which relied largely on “tri-wall” shipping containers or polyurethane boxes that required large amounts of refrigerated or frozen gel packs. This often led to reduced cargo capacity.

For perspective, the two shipments to USAMMC-SWA would have required 20 to 25 boxes in the previous packing processes.

Specifically with the larger tri-walls, it took three workers about 45 minutes to properly pack a single shipment. The new method is prefabricated, only requiring conditioning of refrigerant sleeves and other components to proper temperatures and about 10 minutes to pack by a single employee.

“Using this new solution, we shaved a tremendous amount of time and resources,” said Lt. Col. Todd Schwarz, USAMMC-E’s deputy commander for support operations.

Moses said USAMMC-E regularly supports numerous real-world mission requirements, with customers often requiring large quantities of TSMP on short notice in certain situations.

“With this pallet shipper, we can meet the needs of the customer by providing bulk quantities of TSMP in an engineer-qualified container,” he said. “And we can have the container packaged and ready to go within 24 to 48 hours.”

Adding another level of protection, USAMMC-E also has implemented a new in-transit temperature monitoring device that can provide real-time visibility of shipments.

The monitoring system also sends alerts when a shipment arrives at its destination, or a temperature spike occurs.

Moses said the monitoring system allows USAMMC-E’s pharmacy team to ensure viability of materiel at the time of arrival, streamlining the temperature verification process for the customer.

“By using this device, we always know where the shipment is located and pertinent information, such as temperature, humidity and light levels,” he said. “If something goes wrong during a shipment, we can call the carrier and possibly have them intervene before a temperature excursion occurs.”