Interview with Marco Martin, CTO, Swiss Airtainer SA

Update : 24th January, 2024

Marco Martin, CTO of Swiss Airtainer talks to Cold Chain Platform about Swiss Airtainer’s innovative RKN active container and its light weight design, real-time visibility capabilities, and how Swiss Airtainer is addressing current and future ESG requirements.

1. Swiss Airtainer's RKN container is equipped with solar panels. Can you provide insights into the development process and design benefits?

As with every design a number of compromises are expected, but we maintained a clear focus on addressing the growing sustainability requirements. The solution needed to be light weight for the purpose of fuel savings during transport. This means every system including batteries, heating, cooling, charging system, shall provide 100% redundancy, and the material selection should be recyclable to a very high extent to realize the UN’s environmental program regarding circularity. Additionally, that includes the use of a very robust advanced material that would yield a long product lifetime and protection from damages that frequently occur during handling.

The result is the lightest, strongest, and most technologically advanced temperature controlled container on the market. The Swiss Airtainer solution not only offers the benefit of helping the stakeholders reach their sustainability goals but it is also equipped with an innovate true real time connectivity system that allows us to monitor all parameters of the container components, not only location and temperature, in real time when transported on the ground. The benefit of this design will always detect an anomaly in any container system and send an alert about the necessary preventive action as required.

During shipment, the solar panel offers extra redundancy and reduces the need of relocating the container into temperature controlled storage or from exposure during transit. From a decarboniozation perspective, the solar panels allow for alternative, user friendly and, cost effective exterior storage and charging without drawing directly from the traditional electrical grid. Compared to the incumbent phase change and active solutions that require additional infrastructure and subsequent costs, e.g. equipment to ‘cold soak’ their material and plug-in stations, respectively, we understand these components have been identified as “areas for consideration to improve” during facility sustainability audits.

Take Dubai as an example, currently transiting temperature controlled pharma require that during tarmac time the container be kept in a diesel driven cool dolly or transited to the warehouse to avoid the heat that may exceed temperature control performance of the packaging systems and battery discharge. This scenario is not a problem for the Swiss Airtainer solution. On the contrary, our solution can remain exposed to the these conditions while waiting for the connecting flight since the solar panels will charge the batteries and the thermal properties will maintain temperature performance. During this scenario, we left the container on the tarmac in Dubai during the hottest month for a period of more than 30 hours without any issues. Additionally, we reported savings in time, handling, fuel and subsequent costs when not moving the container solution to a facility inside and then back to the departing flight staging area. Of course, this is subject to airline procedures and QA approval.

2. Your RKN container is significantly lighter than others in the market. How did you achieve such a weight reduction, and what are the main advantages?

As previously mentioned, it was a key a design criteria. The selection of advanced materials and production process are vital to achieving the original goal we set at 399 Kgs but we exceeded that goal and reached 390 Kgs and the container is far stronger than we could have imagined despite all our efforts in simulation and component testing. Briefly, we employ an aviation grade manufacturing standard which allows us to control production parameters which means as we use composite for the structure while ensuring no excess resin, which can represent quite a significant amount of weight, is added.

We use a very specific isolation material with excellent structural and isolation properties yet light and fully recyclable. The team behind the design have extensive experience from the space and aviation industries where weight and strength are key parameters. Then having the benefit of a great deal of experience with temperature controlled containers is just icing on the cake. The advantages are of course reduced fuel burn and lower CO2 emissions which creates an opportunity for the airlines and freight forwarders to expand their service offerings. Specifically, a “sustainable temperature controlled solution” within their product portfolio that can immediately assist the life sciences and healthcare industry realize their GHG protocol Scope 3 objectives in the value chain.

3. Real-time visibility is critical in the pharmaceutical cold chain industry. How does Swiss Airtainer assist clients in this aspect?

This depends on the stakeholders’ requirements. Swiss Airtainer has the capability to send data to the stakeholders’ system or simply grant login access to a secure portal to monitor and/or set alerts on the containers they have on lease or are deployed for their own dedicated project and campaign. We also provide various reports post shipment, not only the usual temperature and route data but also power consumption and the type of power specifically generated by the solar panels and electric grid. This is interesting for the shippers who have identified a need to include the electricity used for shipping its products for their own annual environmental reporting. As a compliment to the power consumption and type report, we offer CO2 emission reports that includes aircraft type which makes up a comprehensive CO2 emission shipment report. As you can imagine, the number of usable data points have created a variety of reporting opportunities for all stakeholders.

4. How can users access and use Swiss Airtainer containers?

Due to demand, we request interested stakeholders to contact Swiss Airtainer directly to access containers during this phase of operations. Enquiries can be sent to: info@swissairtainer.com; stephen.maietta@swissairtainer.com; www.swissairtainer.com.

5. Do you have any plans to launch another active container product?

Yes we do and are in full development. Of course we do not want to reveal too many details at this time but its design benefits come from the same development process and our fundamental core values of sustainability and circularity.

6. In light of the increasing focus on ESG, how does Swiss Airtainer address current and future ESG requirements?

That is a very good and interesting question. We have completed an exhaustive research into different environmental reports and White (usually marketing) Papers across the various temperature controlled packaging providers and frankly speaking there is a lot of greenwashing. For instance, if your employees drive EVs then that is used as an argument that this provider offers an solution that is more environmental friendly than other providers.

We want to simplify and standardize calculations that can offer an accurate method of comparison of the different solutions available today. We all know that weight matters when it comes to transportation especially in aviation where additional weight means additional fuel burn resulting in increased CO2 emissions. Therefore reducing the tare weight is of the upmost priority but we also need loadable volume for the shipment. This means the relation between the volume shipped and the tare weight have the greatest impact and it offers an easy and transparent way of comparing all bulk pallet temperature controlled packaging solutions e.g., passive and active and different sizes. It comes down to the empty weight “tare” of the solution versus a shipping volume of 1 m3.

Another interesting aspect is that active solutions consume energy only when in use as opposed to passive, phase change, “hybrid” and dry ice solutions that cannot be turned off after the shipment has reached its destination and is off loaded. All this stored energy is wasted which can amount to the equivalent of several KWh of energy. In other words, it’s like having your car on idle during the night until it runs out of gas.


About Swiss Airtainer SA

Founded in Switzerland in 2019, Swiss Airtainer specializes in RKN temperature-controlled containers, and have created an innovative cold chain solution that is customer-centric, reliable, sustainable, and cost-effective. Swiss Airtainer aims to become the world's leading provider of sustainable cold chain solutions, enabling the safe and efficient transport of life-saving products while actively contributing to the decarbonization of the airline industry.

Find out more about Swiss Airtainer SA at swissairtainer.com


This article complies with our Editorial Policy

About Marco Martin

CTO, Swiss Airtainer SA

Marco holds an MSc Engineering degree (EPFL) with more than 10 years of experience in the space industry and other high-tech industries (e.g., ArianEspace - Kourou, Guyana).

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