Live from Cool Chain Europe: Pharma freight requires specialized cargo center

A new Pharma & Healthcare Hub at Luxembourg’s Findel airport is on track to handle 30,000 tons of ambient and cold-chain temperature-controlled pharmaceutical products in 2014.

It was the critical mass of healthcare and pharmaceutical cargo along with the support of freight forwarder Panalpina and temperature control system provider Antaris Solutions that made possible Luxair Cargo’s new Pharma & Healthcare Hub at Luxembourg’s Findel Airport. That’s according to Jean-Marc Reynaerts, Vice President Business Development for Luxair Cargo, a business unit of Luxair Group, who showed approximately 15 attendees of the Cool Chain & Controlled Room Temperature Logistics Europe event around the new center on the eve of the late-January conference.

The Luxair Cargo center is a 300,000-sq-m facility that opened in 1996 to handle 1.2 million tons of freight/yr, including high-tech goods, perishables, livestock, pharmaceuticals, and consumer products. While controlled-temperature handling has always been a part of its services, it wasn’t until the economic crisis of 2008-2012—when the handling of a range of goods, with the exception of healthcare products, began to slow—that Luxair Cargo realized the potential of a dedicated area within the facility for pharmaceuticals. In April 2013, the 3,000-sq-m Pharma & Healthcare Hub opened, becoming GDP-certified in mid-January.

According to Raynaerts, the center represents an investment of €4 million—a fraction of what it would have cost, he says, had Luxair Cargo expanded its facility to accommodate the hub. Instead, it used existing warehouse space to set up the controlled-temperature operations. The investment, he says, funded training and technology for the new center. Five hundred operators staff the warehouse, while 100 employees work in the office.

The hub itself handles both ambient (15°C to 25°C) and cold-chain (2°C to 8°C) cargo, receiving or dispatching product from six controlled-temperature truck docks. The warehouse capacity for 15°C to 25°C cargo is 1,270 Euro pallets; for 2°C to 8°C, 350 Euro pallets.

Key to the operation is complete transparency and monitoring of temperature control through a wireless sensor network from Antaris Solutions. The Antaris SmartView web-based software platform collects data from various locations into an integrated, real-time view. The software platform creates real-time visibility, alerts, and history reports in accordance with GDP requirements.

The SmartView network communicates with the battery-operated wireless temperature sensors attached to the cargo by the customer. These sensors contain a temperature and/or humidity sensor, but also function as wireless data logger. The sensors can be calibrated and configured to provide temperature and/or humidity measurements at user-defined intervals. Luxair Cargo’s unique setup of wireless hotspots allows forwarders to use their own sensors, while the network infrastructure is shared.

In preparation for loading into planes, pallets are held in temperature-controlled cells. Luxair Cargo has 70—representing the volume of two 747 cargo planes. As visitors to the facility witnessed, while standing out on a snowy, windy tarmac, pallets can be loaded onto the planes in a maximum of two to three minutes.

For now, the priority market for imports and exports through Luxair Cargo’s Pharma & Healthcare Hub is the North Atlantic, with 21,000 tons of cargo handled last year—without any reported temperature excursions in the storage area. This year, Reynaerts says the group is on track to reach 30,000 tons.