TempChain 4.0: Smart boxes and networked containers

va-Q-tec’s innovative thermal containers and boxes prove persuasive not only because of the excellent insulation they offer thanks to the use of vacuum insulation panels – which enable temperatures inside the containers to be maintained for several days, including at extreme outside temperatures – the containers are also smart: the use of modern information and communication technologies enables customers to monitor the entire TempChain more rapidly and more precisely during transport. All this forms part of va-Q-tec’s innovative TempChain 4.0 services.

The central element of these digital services is the TempChain Service Software, an online platform on which the customer can centrally control the entire logistics process – from ordering the thermal boxes through to picking them up at the end of the order – and monitoring them in real time. The advantage here is that if the innovative thermal containers are handled incorrectly or other malfunctions of the TempChain are imminent, it is possible to respond more quickly to ensure the consistency of the temperature chain, including during transport. Finally, thanks to the platform on which the necessary data is available, the customer can independently monitor the transport conditions and, if necessary, initiate changes immediately. This not only saves valuable time, but also costs associated with any transport errors.

Many goods must be transported within a certain constant temperature range to ensure quality, effectiveness and usability. Among other things, this is also required by the European Commission’s stringent GDP regulations. This serves to maintain the quality and integrity of medical products and to ensure controlling of the logistics chain. This applies, for example, not only to vaccines, but also to materials used in clinical or scientific studies. During transport, these may only be exposed to stable (temperature) conditions, in order to avoid the distortion of test results, for example. The last mile, i.e. delivery from the last distribution point to scientific or medical facilities, is particularly critical here. Delivery times are short, but a lot of transports occur under very different conditions. With its smart high-tech insulated containers, va-Q-tec offers a solution to this problem. Finally, they make the required logging much easier.

To make this possible, the smart thermal boxes are equipped with a Bluetooth data logger. This reacts to exposure to light: when the customer opens the box at the beginning of the transport, the data logger is automatically activated. This not only measures the internal temperature and, based on this, also the external temperature of the container, but additionally registers other factors such as humidity and brightness. At the end of the order, customer can then view this data in a special app on their phones, or, if desired, in the data cloud. BlockChain technology contributes to data security by enabling decentralized processing and storage of data on different servers and tracking and documenting any changes. The result of these services is that customers of va-Q-tec can inform themselves about the transport conditions of the consignment independently and when required – without having to make any compromises in terms of data security.

This TempChain 4.0 concept is a prime example of the Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to the independent networking and communication of objects with each other, and which has been becoming increasingly a reality for some time. va-Q-tec strives to further advance this networking and to exploit its advantages in order to develop new services. In the future, for example, a va-Q-tainer that stands unplanned for too long at over 50 degrees Celsius in Dubai could independently initiate the search for of an alternative, better location. Only then, when such a location is actually available, would human beings have to intervene in the process in order to deliver the container to the respective location.

However, not only customers, but also va-Q-tec itself benefits from this data, which is evaluated with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). For example, the maintenance of boxes and containers can be made more flexible and accurate: with the collected data, the technical condition of each individual container can be better assessed in advance. Maintenance only takes place when it is necessary – and not any sooner or later. Not only does this saves resources for unnecessary repairs but also ensures that containers are not taken out of service unnecessarily. Furthermore, thanks to the data, va-Q-tec can, for example, make more accurate forecasts about the availability of its fleet – the basis for the development of further services, which in turn benefit the customers.