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Case studies

Innovative carrier keeps vaccines cold as they are transported to remote locations

NPL helps start-up verify the abilities of a refrigerated vaccine carrier for delivery to remote communities.

Case study

The need

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for precisely-controlled refrigeration conditions for vaccine storage has become particularly acute. The necessity, and challenge associated, is amplified when delivering vaccines to remote communities.

Ideabatic has developed an innovative insulated vaccine carrier called SMILE. Hexagonal in shape, the carrier contains a cylindrical cold block surrounded by a carousel system to hold vials of vaccine. This ensures that all vials are a known distance from the cold source, preventing the variations in temperature which can occur in conventional cold boxes which makes them unsuitable for vaccine transport.

This temperature variation is a particular problem in the first mile (from warehousing or manufacturing to refrigerated transport) and last mile of vaccine transport, where the vials have to be taken from a refrigerated truck, across country to remote communities in environments which may be tropical or polar. In some cases, this ‘last mile’ transport can take several days, during which there is often no stable refrigeration.

The solution

NPL used their temperature-controlled chambers to test the SMILE carrier. These chambers precisely simulate the range of ambient conditions the carriers would be used in. Miniaturised temperature sensors, calibrated with traceability to NPL temperature standards, were placed inside vials to track the conditions within. This allowed NPL to gather vital performance data about the SMILE carrier to help Ideabatic understand its performance and confirm that it met the strict conditions for vaccine transportation. 

The impact

The results confirm that the system can be used for first-mile and last-mile transportation. With this data, they can prove to clients that they meet criteria for sending products, such as medical drugs, under colder ambient conditions than they previously could.

This expands the sales opportunities with new and existing customers for Ideabatic, and allows vaccine manufacturers and health organisations to specify the range of ambient temperatures that the SMILE carrier can be used at with confidence to deliver vaccines in perfect condition, potentially to remote communities from Madagascar to Siberia.

The work also gave Ideabatic valuable insight into temperature measurements, helping them understand how to improve temperature prediction and optimise the location of the electronics, which will simplify design and reduce costs for future refinements of SMILE.   

The project demonstrates how the M4R programme has helped small, innovative businesses to access the highly-specialised measurement expertise they need to certify their products for use in highly-regulated industries.

What the customer says

The project has helped us understand whether the technology can be used at lower temperatures than it was originally designed for, allowing us to expand the types of applications it can be used for.

Kitty Liao - Ideabatic

Ideabatic is an academic start-up founded by electrical engineer and cryogenic specialist Kitty Liao in 2014. It is developing non-powered systems to maintain precise temperature control in a variety of ambient conditions.