Cooling the last mile of vaccine delivery
Deploying vaccines globally that keep people safe from any number of infections is a complicated process that requires close coordination among supply chain partners, with seamless handoffs and effective logistics. Many vaccines require cold storage, which can be difficult to maintain. Vaccines that aren’t cooled properly can lose their effectiveness, create waste, and could mean the difference between life and death for people in need.
Sure Chill has developed a cooling technology that harnesses a unique property of water and solar power to provide continuous cooling for long periods of time. PA and Sure Chill identified an opportunity to harness this technology and develop a portable, Cloud-connected, and sustainable cooler that can transport lifesaving supplies to the most remote parts of the world. PA provided end-to-end innovation capabilities, including growth strategy, manufacturing and process design, sustainability and supply chain, digital, product development and engineering expertise.
Beyond vaccines, the cooler can be used to distribute medical items that need to be kept cool including blood used in transfusions and insulin, maintaining them for three days between 2 to 8˚C. By applying circular design principles, we’ve ensured the device can be completely disassembled – either for repair, sub systems reuse, or recycling.
- Identified multiple use cases for a portable device that would improve vaccine transportation and storage solutions
- Provided end-to-end product innovation, prototyping a new solution in just four months
- Identified implications of trade-offs in the design process and optimised performance to meet sustainability and cost goals
- Overcame technical challenges by bringing to bear the capabilities at our Global Innovation and Technology Centre
Facilitating faster, more equitable vaccine distribution
Transporting and distributing vaccines is always difficult but in the developing world, it’s a huge challenge. Vaccines may need to traverse challenging roads on their path to remote health care clinics and communities. Clinics may or may not have access to static refrigerators that could extend vaccine life, while power outages could easily spoil supplies. In addition, communities may need to be vaccinated on a rolling basis, compounding these challenges.
Accelerating innovation at a time of great market need
Today, there are thousands of Sure Chill medical refrigerators in over 49 countries around the world. Their refrigerators are trusted by WHO, Ministries of Health, Hospitals and health centres to keep their vaccines and other lifesaving supplies perfectly chilled and protected from spoilage.
In South Sudan, Sure Chill’s technology is at the heart of the Liwolo Clinic. As the only clinic with a medical refrigerator within a 40-mile radius, it’s helping diagnose people faster and ensuring they’re prescribed the right medicine. And in the Democratic Republic of Congo, being able to refrigerate vaccines was vital in helping wipe out diseases such as Avian Plague and Newcastle Disease.
Yet Sure Chill wanted to go one step further. They wanted to create a portable device that could be placed in the most remote parts of the world, where there isn’t any existing infrastructure in place. Together, we set about developing a robust, Cloud-connected portable cooler, that will bring lifesaving supplies to even more people.
Leveraging diverse expertise
We began by conducting fast-paced market research to validate and quantify the opportunity. After doing so, we assembled a multi-functional team to build a product aligned to market demand and certify agency requirements and on-the-ground conditions. We called on in-house engineers, physicists, scientists and other experts at our Global Innovation and Technology Centre.
We explored supply chain partners who could manufacture and distribute the unit and had the ability to scale fast to meet demand. To do this, we drew on expertise from our network. This included Crown Agents Ltd, an International development agency, who worked with PA to provide insights into how the cold chain, the system used for keeping and distributing vaccines, works in countries in the developing world. We also worked with European Thermodynamics, a thermal management engineering firm, who supported the design of the active cooling module in the unit
Meeting performance, sustainability, and cost goals
We modelled the cooler’s performance so that we could optimise performance and help Sure Chill make important trade off decisions even before we made physical prototypes. We examined the impact of materials, unit construction and size objectives, optimising these variables to meet Sure Chill’s performance, sustainability, and cost goals.
Next, we prototyped the physical unit, leveraging our industrial design, science, and engineering capabilities. We embedded ‘circular’ product design principles into the design, meaning it could be completely disassembled, either for repair, sub systems reuse, or recycling, helping to reduce waste reaching landfills. For example, we ensured the chiller design is free from anti-freeze or adhesives.
The unit needed to meet safety standards and maintain consistent, multi-day cooling while being used in variable ambient temperatures, transported over bumpy roads, and carried by hand or hoisted on shoulders. So, after building a physical unit, we put the portable cooler through its paces, traversing roads and simulating how it was expected to be transported. Our goal was to create a product that met both test bed simulations and real-life usage conditions.
Overcoming complexity with a fail-fast approach
After experiencing an unexpected technical hurdle with mobility, we rapidly tested potential solutions. We took a fail-fast approach, looking to identify the solutions that showed promise quickly, before investing time to do more detailed tests – both through physical and computer modelling. This allowed us to rule out all but two of our possible solutions, and then deep dive into those, one of which resolved our challenge. We found that Sure Chill could build a smaller, less expensive unit overall that would be easier to carry and use, without sacrificing any usable cooling volume or performance in the field.
Designing a connected solution
Next, our experts in digital design and electronics designed a connected solution. Once manufactured, it will allow users to access critical insights into vaccine condition and send this information to the cloud in real time, so that others involved in running the cold chain could access it. This will allow users to monitor vaccine temperatures, determine if units have been opened and closed or if units have been dropped. This allowed us to identify new innovative business models.
We’re now helping the client explore a “cold as a service” offering to drive new revenues, reduce vaccine spoilage and provide faster response times. Instead of making a one-time product sale, the offering will mean Sure Chill can lease, maintain and upgrade its coolers, helping users maximise the value of these products and extend their lifespans.
Capitalising on a new growth opportunity
Sure Chill now has a prototyped product that will act as a building block for a future range of active/passive cooling devices of varying sizes and performance parameters. The final solution offers flexible cooling options, ensures uniform temperatures and is easily repairable. It also provides connectivity and logs data, providing users with confidence that temperatures are being maintained. That means vaccines stay chilled and effective, saving more lives.