Gene Cooke admits it was ‘truly fortuitous’ that Cold Jet completed an expansion of its main manufacturing facility just before the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak, which has helped the Loveland, Ohio-based company keep pace with a fivefold increase in its machines that make dry ice.
“It went from 0mph to 60mph overnight,” the Cold Jet President and CEO told gasworld.
Cold Jet’s products are being used by Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer Pfizer-BioNTech as well as by distribution companies, which need the dry ice for storage and transportation of the vaccines. Driven by the development of vaccines through the summer, and then the authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December, Cold Jet has never known demand like it.
“Unilaterally, we have not known demand like this,” Cooke said.
“We went from little or no knowledge of Covid early in 2020 to a full-out sprint when Pfizer-BioNTech decided on a strategy for their vaccine and knowing that it needed ultracold temperature to retain its integrity.”
Initially, Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine had to be shipped and stored at between -80°C and -60°C to remain stable and effective, until a relaxation of guidelines in February. This led to a rush on Cold Jet’s equipment.
“In calendar 2020 we had a fivefold increase in our dry ice manufacturing business segment,” Cooke said.
“We had quite a good first quarter working with Air Products, Nippon Gases and others in Europe for last mile delivery channels, but really the majority of that increase was last half of the year and driven by Pfizer-BioNTech’s demand for dry ice manufacturing solutions in Belgium, Karlsruhe in Germany, Kalamazoo in Michigan and Pleasant Prairie in Wisconsin.”
Cold Jet has two primary lines of business: its cleaning and surface preparation portfolio of products that use dry ice as the cleaning medium; and its dry ice manufacturing systems business, which has swelled by more than 200% during the pandemic.
Cold Jet’s dry ice production machines are capable of producing up to 1,600 lb (750 kg) per hour and engineered to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Cold Jet machines are now producing dry ice at all points in the vaccine distribution cold chain, from the packaging lines at pharmaceutical companies, to distribution centers at global logistics companies.
Crucial to keeping up with the sudden surge in demand was the expansion of Cold Jet’s main manufacturing plant.
“Just in 2019 we had slightly more than doubled our physical plant in Denmark which is where we produce the lion share of our dry ice manufacturing systems,” Cooke said.
“We didn’t anticipate this horrid pandemic, it just happened to be incredibly good timing. We doubled our ability to produce, we worked with our supply chain, not really anticipating the pharmaceutical demand but because of air catering and the development of last mile delivery networks around the world. Solid CO2 produced in large quantities and metered into packaged containers was a trend, so we had put into place not only the physical capacity but the supply relationships that enabled us to much more readily respond to that fivefold increase in dry ice manufacturing systems. We’ve added people and shifts and thankfully we have been able to produce without disruption at all four manufacturing facilities around the world. It was truly fortuitous.”
As well as prioritizing delivery of its products to Pfizer-BioNTech, Cold Jet has supplied machines to the likes of FedEx, UPS and DHL which have been shipping the vaccines around the nation.
“The original working relationship was with the manufacturer [Pfizer] and Cold Jet directly because that’s where the demand was so severe,” Cooke said.
“In its development process, Pfizer-BioNTech developed a strategy that required ultracold chain temperatures not only post manufacturing but also in a distribution model which started at its manufacturing facilities in Belgium and Michigan. It then asked how do we get vaccines in these soft boxes from our point of manufacture to points of use and points of distribution, and how do we maintain consistently and reliably and being able to track that cold chain? Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna worked with a bunch of companies, Cold Jet being one of them, because not only can we produce and package the right amount of dry ice but also know what data logging and tracking technologies to use to ensure the cold chain has been maintained through distribution to point of use. Once you branch out from the points of manufacture, then it’s FedEx, UPS, DHL etc take these containers with dry ice in them and transfer them from airplane to trucking networks. The original packaging out of the facility is only going to be good for three or four days before re-icing is required. All of the points of application need to be supported with re-icing efforts. If you get to your local pharmacy, there’s a high probability they don’t have an ultracold freezer on site, so they will need quantities of dry ice delivered in a timely fashion so they can re-ice on. That transition from manufacturing points to logistics companies to the points of use is very dynamic.”
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved more flexible storage and transportation conditions for Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine in February. The FDA ruling allows Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines to be stored at standard freezer temperatures for up to two weeks instead of ultracold conditions using liquid nitrogen or dry ice.
“This will not impact the Cold Jet business,” Cooke said. “Most of what we deal with is all direct Pfizer or shipping/re-distribution. All these shipments will still require dry ice. The benefit with this change is more at POY.”
Demand for Cold Jet’s dry ice machines is not only being driven by the vaccine, and Cooke thinks one trend will outlast Covid-19.
“Of the fivefold increase year over year in 2020, versus 2019, I would say a little more than half of that was the unexpected demand from pharmaceutical industry and the other half really related to the specialty retail, food home delivery network,” Cooke said.
“Not only do I think it [food delivery] will sustain I think it’s going to increase in velocity. One of the behaviors I think a lot of us will take from this year and a quarter in lockdown or disruption of normal life is that home delivery of food stuffs is convenient and it’s a mega trend for CO2/nitrogen that is probably here to stay.”