ULD Air Cargo Containers – Quality versus Redundancy – Where’s the Argument?

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Dayton, Ohio, USA, June 2015

Being a parent can be tough.  In my children’s complex and fast-paced world, with so many external pressures upon them, it’s sometimes hard to get them to understand the importance of some of the fundamental things in life –  such as doing well in school without sounding like, well,  ‘a parent’.

Take last week. I was called upon by my 11 year-old son to give my advice and, for a brief moment, I felt important.   He had a school science test and he was questioning if he really needed to study because the teacher told the class that anyone failing to achieve an 80% would get a second chance two days later to take the test.  His argument was that he didn’t need the study time for the first test as he could study if need be the second time around – in other words, he had a backup plan.

I pointed out that this theory had its flaws – failing once in something where one doesn’t fully try doesn’t mean that if effort is put into the second time, there will be a successful outcome.  In fact, the risk of failure could increase and he would likely spend more time in stressful study for his second attempt to pass, than if he had studied for the original test.   I finished by explaining to him a fundamental principle of Quality used in my world of business – ‘Right the First Time’.

In the engineering and manufacturing process, we think of a system failure backup as ‘redundant’.   However, in many cases, the development, installation and use of redundant systems can backfire and produce less, not more, reliability.  This may happen in several ways: First, redundant components may result in a more complex system that is more prone to errors and accidents. Second, redundancy may lead to decreased production quality pressures, resulting in a system that is prone to quality issues.  Third, the system may not perform as well and may become reliant on the backup systems.  In any case, cost, in addition to performance, are inevitable additional concerns.

The question of redundancy was a topic of conversation after a presentation made at a recent conference.  The discussion centered on how having multiples of a system was presented as better than having one system of the highest quality.  To acknowledge that a lesser system is present and acceptable, and thus requiring several redundant systems, versus having the best system focused on perfect achievement, seemed a surprising position to defend.

There are currently two schools of thought related to the design of active ULD temperature management containers (RKN’s).  The first relates to the use of ‘redundancy’ in critical components and the second is based upon ‘reliability.’  In the world of RKN’s, this means if a system fails such as a compressor, there is a backup system or, if a container fails, there is a backup container made available as soon as possible.

But reliability is the ability of a system or component to still perform its required functions under all stated conditions for a specified period of time.  In other words, build it so that it is of the highest quality such that it does not fail.

Take the CSafe RKN for example:

Built for the rigors of air cargo, the carefully designed, high-quality mechanical system with the integration of ThermoCor® Vacuum Insulated Panels (VIP) results in a highly efficient system.  The VIP have a thermal resistance 7 times greater than the foam used in other RKN designs.  This superior design has minimal duty load on the system, reducing operating cycles/time and maximizing service life.  In comparison, non-CSafe RKN designs utilize multiple mechanical systems with foam insulation, resulting in higher duty loads, longer operating cycles and reduced service life.

Also, built-in quality extends to the ability of the active ULD to perform its critical functions in extreme ambient conditions experienced in summer and winter. The CSafe RKN has the ability to operate and outperform the competitive designs in extreme environments as high as +49°C and as low as -30°C due to the use of VIP insulation and stringent manufacturing policies.   More significantly for the user, the low duty cycles has a direct influence on battery consumption rate.  This gives the container three times the operating independence of its rival during ambient temperatures of +30°C, thus providing the Peace of Mind® shippers desire.

What about redundancy for a mechanical system failure? With the CSafe RKN, we took a different approach to redundancy.  Unlike the alternate designs that rely on a mechanical backup, the CSafe RKN utilizes a passive design with ThermoCor VIP insulation that enables the container to maintain product temperature for a duration of 8 hours with no power versus forty minutes for other active systems. This ‘hold-over’ period gives adequate time for the shipper to instigate the predetermined contingency plan and thus maintain product integrity. This passive approach to redundancy is far more effective and failsafe, compared to relying on a second mechanical system that that may become inoperable.  For example, if the batteries fail or become fully depleted, there will be no redundancy or backup.

This approach to first-time quality is at the heart of our business at CSafe– from initial design to availability, service maintenance, reliability and on-going continuous improvement.  After all, it’s how our customers design their pharmaceutical products, as we all want our drugs to work the first time, every time.

For the RKN active container comparison, click here.