IAG Cargo and Envirotainer: the ground-breaking tech that helps save lives 

Transporting life-saving drugs across the globe in highly sensitive and demanding conditions is a challenge that IAG Cargo and Envirotainer take on every single day. We spoke to Niklas Adamsson, Chief Operating Officer at Envirotainer, to find out how their high-tech containers provide flawless conditions for moving pharmaceuticals and vaccines. 

Niklas Adamsson, Chief Operating Officer at Envirotainer

What is Envirotainer? 

We are the market leader in providing active ULD solutions for temperature-controlled airfreight. We’ve been in the business for 37 years, since 1985, and are proud to have the biggest global presence in providing active ULD containers for the transportation of pharmaceuticals and vaccines. Our fleet has more than 7,000 active ULDs and over 55 stations globally where we provide our services. 

Tell us a bit about your role at Envirotainer.

I often describe myself as a customer-serving engineer, but my job title is Chief Operating Officer. I oversee the daily operations which go into leasing containers to our customers. This involves making sure units are where they need to be, and are correctly maintained and fully functioning, to ensure our customers receive the service they need. The goal is to make sure the end customer, which is the patient, gets the life-saving pharmaceuticals or vaccines.

Does Envirotainer fly worldwide? 

We’re a global company and our equipment is used for the worldwide distribution of pharmaceuticals and vaccines. There are no limitations on where our units can be used. With our partners, especially IAG Cargo, pharmaceuticals and vaccines can be delivered anywhere in the world that they might be needed. 

What risks have been eliminated with the new containers?

The new Releye RLP and RAP containers have longer battery autonomy. This means that there is no need to charge the battery during transit, unlike other temperature-controlled containers. As a result, there is no reliance on this manual intervention that would otherwise be needed and therefore less risk of errors occurring.

How is it possible for the new Releye RLP and RAP containers to last 170 hours without being recharged?

It took a lot of hard work – about four years of it. But there are three main aspects to how we’ve made it possible. We had to optimise the cooling, in terms of efficiency and energy consumption, improve airflows inside the container, and develop state-of-the-art battery technology. Optimising these three elements together resulted in the market-leading 170 hours of battery autonomy.

Could you tell us about some of the high-tech features it has?

One key feature that is a first of its kind in the market is our fully integrated live monitoring. Everything from battery levels, outside and inside temperature, door openings, and the rest of the sensor data is transmitted through live monitoring equipment. This is fed back to the control tower to be observed by our global customer service team. If anything happens to go wrong, our customer service team will speak to the customer. 

Photo: Envirotainer AB

How will these containers improve the efficiency of pharma shipments? 

One of the key elements in terms of efficiency is how much you can move in every shipment. Active solutions benefit from being able to move more pharma per volume by optimising the insulation. We have the tallest container, plus the way the air distribution is designed, you can pack more without compromising the temperature. Releye has the largest cargo compartment for an active container – the Releye RAP has a capacity of five EUR pallets or four US pallets.

What makes the Releye containers more sustainable?

By enabling more pharma per volume to be moved, less fuel is being used per vial shipped. As a result, the CO2 footprint per vial is lower. Also, in comparison to passive solutions which are single use, our units can be reused for 15 to 20 years. Additionally, passive solutions use a lot of energy to prepare containers. But Releye doesn’t need this preparation as they’re battery powered. 

Will the Releye containers serve as an addition or replacement for current containers?

IAG Cargo still uses all of our containers since we began our partnership together over 20 years ago. This includes the first and second generation of active containers. Now they’ve also approved the use of the Releye platform as well. By reflecting over the years, I think that customers will use both the old and new containers. Some customers might replace existing solutions with a Releye solution and others might start using Releye for new products and new trade lanes. 

What went into making the Releye containers?

As we’re very customer-centric, it all started with understanding what our customers needed, the trends, where the industry is going, and what’s not in the market yet. We then set the expectations and specifications of the product. It took a long time to develop, because of its complex technology and solutions. But when it was designed, we then had to make sure we complied with all the regulations.

Why is Envirotainer so important?

In 2021, we distributed more than one billion doses of the Covid vaccine. In addition, every day of the year we deliver 2.5 million doses of vaccines and pharmaceuticals, which ultimately save lives every single day. We work with every major pharmaceutical company in the world to distribute vaccines for flu campaigns and drugs for diseases like diabetes and arthritis. The list of pharmaceuticals and vaccines we distribute is endless. 

Can you tell us about a major challenge you’ve faced?

The pandemic was a huge challenge, but also an opportunity to make a large impact on the world. Agility is one of our core values and the market was changing, so we had to adapt to it. Throughout the pandemic, we remained 100 per cent operational, because people around the world still depended on our services to receive pharmaceuticals. The vaccine distribution came on top of the regular business, but we managed that with our partners like IAG Cargo and were very successful.

Why is IAG Cargo so important in moving active temperature-controlled containers with Envirotainer?

There are several reasons. IAG Cargo’s large network, the capacity they bring to the market, and our long-lasting, successful partnership. Also, IAG Cargo has been supportive of our new Releye platform. We are looking at a very promising future and we need partners like these to be part of our journey to grow together. 

What are the steps in getting Releye approved by the shipper and pharmaceutical companies?

The airlines and pharmaceutical companies also need to qualify, but we prepared documentation during the development of Releye to ensure we could start using our new containers for shipping as soon as it was launched. This means that pharmaceutical companies avoid a lengthy qualification process: they don’t have to do trial shipments and tests, because we already do it for them. All they need to do is look through the documentation we provide and review that for qualification. 

What are your future goals?

As a company, we see a huge demand for our services. The underlying market for pharma distribution is growing fast. So, we plan on growing with our customers to continue to provide the solutions and capacity they need. At the same time, we need to continue to drive the industry forward by bringing innovation to the market, as that’s our responsibility as the market leader. 

 Learn about Constant Climate, IAG Cargo’s state-of-the-art cold chain product for transporting temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products as airfreight.