Trailer telematics and temperature-sensitive transportation

Each of the new COVID-19 vaccines needs to be transported and stored at a specific temperature, otherwise it is spoiled. For trailer fleet managers transporting temperature-sensitive goods such as pharmaceuticals at precise temperatures, selecting the right reefer and telematics system is critical.


Temperature controls

The recommended storage temperatures for the most commonly available COVID-19 vaccines in Europe are -80˚C to -60˚C for Pfizer BioNTech, -25˚C to -15˚C for Moderna and 2˚C to 8˚C for AstraZeneca. When you remove them from refrigeration, you can store them at a higher temperature for a limited time before they become ineffective. (source: SPS NHS UK)

Getting the storage or transportation of temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical products wrong can endanger patient health or, in exceptional cases, be life-threatening. Temperature change is just one of the factors which can damage drugs. Others include sunlight, humidity, packaging and handling throughout the supply chain.

Temperature controls

Vaccine wastage

One Nucleus, a not-for-profit life sciences and healthcare organization, warns that “With both the World Health Organization and the International Air Transport Association stating that the likely vaccine wastage through poor temperature control is around 25% per year, logistics failures in the COVID-19 cold chain could be costly.” (Source: FocusOnTransportZA)

In 2019, cold chain logistics is estimated to have accounted for more than 26% of the global pharmaceutical industry. In 2019, the global pharmaceutical industry was worth over €1.025tn and is expected to increase to €1.312tn by 2024.

Chilled or frozen?

There are four types of pharmaceutical products transported:

  • Biologics including vaccines, blood, genes, tissues.
  • Prescribed drugs such as opioids and stimulants.
  • Over-the-counter medicines including vitamins, minerals, cough drugs.
  • Raw materials and bulk pharmaceuticals.

Depending on the temperature at which drugs need to be preserved, the environments in which they are transported are categorised either as ‘chilled’ in the 2˚C to 8˚C range or ‘frozen’ in temperatures colder than -15˚C. (source: VRRAero)

On ice?

Pharmaceuticals can be transported in small, insulated boxes through to refrigerated 12m ISO containers and large reefer trailers.

The principal cold chain technologies which provide a temperature-controlled environment for pharmaceutical products during transport are:

  • Dry ice, which involves solid carbon dioxide at -80˚C, keeps pharmaceuticals frozen for long periods of time.
  • Gel packs, which can be used for chilled products.
  • Eutectic plates, also known as cold plates, which are like gel packs but filled with liquid and can be reused regularly. They are good for keeping cold temperatures for rolling refrigerated units.
  • Liquid nitrogen, which holds its temperature at -196˚C, is considered hazardous and used mainly for transporting tissues and organs.
  • Quilts are insulated sheets placed around products to keep them at a constant temperature. These are suitable over shorter journeys, which may not justify using more costly refrigeration technologies.
  • Reefers are the standard temperature-controlled transport unit, typically a van, small truck, semi-trailer or standard ISO container. These insulated units are equipped with an independent refrigeration plant which maintains the interior temperature of the reefer at a controlled and constant level. (Source: Org)

The storage and transport of vaccines is highly regulated by government and health authorities which issue strict guidelines and rules including the EU’s Guidelines of 5 November 2013 on Good Distribution Practice of medicinal products for human use.

Pharmaceuticals and transport telematics

Certain advances in telematics are highly beneficial for cold chain management including the pharmaceutical industry and the safe transport of vaccines. Smart sensors feed data to the driver and fleet manager in real-time, enabling them to take actions if problems arise.

Sensors integrated into reefers can:

  • Monitor temperatures whilst taking into account variations in air temperature caused by, for example, open or closed doors.
  • Measure moisture and humidity.
  • Detect motion and visual anomalies such as unlocked or open doors. (source: GoFleet)

Further benefits of telematics include tracking and tracing of assets; remote surveillance of the mechanical aspects of trailers and trucks and using AI and other technologies to support driver navigation and safety.

For the pharmaceutical transportation industry, reefer trailer telematics increases profitability, minimises temperature-related product spoilage and costs, reduces trailer fleet operating cost and improves the safety of drivers and their vehicles.

TIP Insight Telematics

TIP Insight telematics and its FleetBeat-Cooler for temperature-sensitive and high value transport

TIP can add significant value to your cold chain transportation with its FleetBeat-Cooler telematics solution and through reefer leasing, rental and maintenance.

TIP’s reefer-focused telematics solution FleetBeat-Cooler provides remote reefer management, connection to data loggers and enables connectivity to door sensors. Among its many features are:

  • temperature monitoring capability.
  • connectivity to reefer and logger systems to report on door status, fuel levels, error codes, diesel and electric hours.
  • an integrated GPS module for accurate reporting of trailer position, driving versus standstill status, speed, mileage.
  • automatic capture of rich EBS data to report on roll-stability events, harsh braking events, diagnostic trouble codes, non-ISO connectivity, axle loads, etc.
  • real-time data gathering with feedback given on a regular basis

FleetBeat-Cooler is a robust telematics hardware device fitted to a trailer. It keeps you updated on the temperature of cargo in your reefer, helping you maximise your reefer uptime.

Reefer leasing & rental

Headquartered in Amsterdam, TIP is one of the leading providers of trailer equipment and services within Europe and Canada. TIP specialises in providing the transportation and logistics sector with leasing, rental, maintenance, and repairs through a wide selection of trailer equipment.

TIP offers standard reefers on a lease or rental basis to trailer fleet operators in the pharmaceuticals industry and others. TIP provides specialised reefer maintenance and repair services.


For more information on how you can take advantage of our FleetBeat-Cooler telematics and/or our reefer leasing and rental service tailored to pharmaceutical transport, please contact your local TIP Trailer Services manager, or contact us.