Telematics and cloud-based analytics can give shippers and pharmaceutical companies vital information.
Drugmakers, the US military and shipping giants UPS and FedEx are working together to move millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines into healthcare facilities across the country, and behind the scenes another set of companies is hard at work keeping those vaccines safe in transit. Firms that specialize in Internet of Things (IoT) sensor and software technology could have a crucial role to play in the cold chain storage required to keep the vaccines intact.
One example is Carrier, a global manufacturer of climate control solutions. The company is named for Willis Carrier, who invented the modern air conditioner, but today the name Carrier has a secondary meaning as refrigerated Carrier Pods carry temperature-sensitive cargo to global destinations.
"Carrier saw a need arise with the pandemic and quickly developed a solution," said Luca Bertuccelli, director of connected platform solutions for Carrier's refrigeration business. Carrier's Sensitech unit makes temperature indicators and monitoring solutions that are being used in portions of the current vaccine distribution effort, according to the company. Temperatures as low as -20 degrees Celsius, the required storage temperature for the Moderna vaccine, can be measured by the company's sensors. Its monitoring solution includes a dry ice probe; dry ice is required to maintain the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine at -70 degrees Celsius.
Bertucelli said connected sensors can be placed on both the refrigerated containers that carry vaccines and on the medical packages stored inside those containers. The refrigerated containers include telematics to support real-time status updates. Data is processed by the company's Lynx software platform, which leverages Amazon Web Services' IoT, analytics and machine learning capabilities. Machine learning is used to identify issues that could affect cargo, and recommend ways to improve outcomes and avoid potential loss or spoilage.
As for the wireless network technology supporting the offering, Carrier officials said the company "will work with different customers to finalize needs for the Pods, but sensors can include cellular connectivity." They didn't provide any more information.
Alerts and warnings
By using Carrier's product, shippers can find out about potential issues with their cargo by accessing an app that delivers notifications. Bertuccelli said Carrier is working to develop text and email notifications so that shippers can find out about problems without needing to check a special app.
Carrier estimates that one of its newly developed Carrier Pods can provide cooling capacity for hundreds of thousands of vaccines. "There are several COVID-19 vaccines in development, and each has its own set of strict requirements," said Mike Hurton, vice president and general manager at Carrier's Sensitech unit. "Our comprehensive monitoring solutions can move with the product enabling drug manufacturers and their distributors to help ensure product quality and compliance."
IoT solutions developed by Carrier and others will play a critical role in the effort to vaccinate as many people as possible. Experts say that pharmaceutical companies have reported spoilage rates of up to 20% for other vaccines, and these companies know they can save lives by reducing that percentage with this vaccine.
But ensuring safe transit is only one aspect. For example, the combination of location-tracking sensors and cloud-based data analytics could enable drug companies and military logistics personnel to understand how much usable vaccine is available at each target location, and how much is expected to be there in the near future. Combining this data can facilitate the re-routing of shipments in order to fulfill the goal of maximizing the delivery of the vaccine to healthcare providers and vulnerable populations.