The global cold chain market was worth a staggering $232.23 billion in 2021. That’s a huge amount of money ensuring that our ice cream, fruits, and vegetables arrive cold!
The concept of cold chain is simple, but how do you achieve the safe transfer of temperature-sensitive items from one place to another? The answer is thermal packaging.
Let’s take a closer look at exactly how thermal packaging insulation works.
When Do You Need Thermal Packaging?
Thermal packaging is essential for getting many perishable food items to market. Thermal shipping is also a requirement for many pharmaceuticals, for example, vaccines and insulin. Without it, medications may be less effective by the time they reach the end-user.
Wine is also sensitive to heat. It will age faster if not transferred in appropriate thermal packaging. Fresh fruit also requires thermal packaging and measures to control excess moisture buildup.
How Is Heat Transferred?
Before we can understand how thermal insulation packaging works, we need to understand how heat is transferred. This happens in three ways:
Conduction happens when heat transfers between substances that are in contact with each other. For example, if a container of produce was left out in the sun, the hot walls of the container would transfer heat to anything touching them inside.
Convection occurs when thermal energy moves from a warm place to a cold place. The warm gas rises and is replaced by the cooler gas below. This creates a cycle of thermal energy.
The thermal packaging needs to protect against these rising currents of warmer air that move through the environment.
Finally, radiation is how the sun transmits its heat, through infrared radiation. Your insulated packing materials need to be able to stand up to the sun itself and protect the contents from its potentially harmful rays.
How Thermal Packaging Works
For products that need to be kept at a very cold temperature, a double layer of refrigerants and insulation may be used.
The refrigerants, such as dry ice or gel packs, provide thermal mass. They slowly release energy to maintain a thermal equilibrium in the package.
The next layer which is essential in all thermal packaging is insulation. This forms a barrier that protects against all three types of heat transfer. The right material for the job will depend on the product you are transporting and the length of time it will be in transit.
Some common insulated packing materials for frozen and temperature-sensitive products include:
- Polystyrene (Styrofoam)
- Fiber insulation e.g. wool or plant fibers
- Mycelium insulation
Foil-faced insulation can be very effective, as foil blocks most radiation heat. Consumer demand for sustainable products is growing. Plant-based products are likely to grow in popularity.
Finally, it’s important to securely seal the outer cardboard packaging. Use pressure-sensitive packing tape in an H pattern.
After passing through the cold temperature packaging system, load into cool containers for air freight.
Choosing the Right Thermal Insulation Packing Materials
Finding the right thermal packaging is about considering what you’re shipping and how long it will be in transit. Also, consider the demands of consumers. Many may prefer natural or recyclable materials that have a lower impact on the planet.
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