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CoolKit and Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles: Combining Innovation with Collaboration to Comply with Pharma GDP

If we think back to January 2020, no one could have predicted how this year has turned out, affecting businesses left, right and centre. However, one key takeaway from the past year is that thinking outside-the-box is a must, especially in relation to the manufacturing industries where flexibility may not have been so prevalent previously yet is essential when looking to the future.

For us here at CoolKit, creative thinking is in our DNA as we always strive to provide bespoke innovative solutions for our customers, and a recent collaboration with Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles to meet the GDP Compliance needs of a large pharmaceutical distribution fleet is one of these instances.

This company provide first-class distribution services for the supply of medicines and other healthcare products to pharmacies, dispensing doctors, hospitals and health centres across the UK, and against the backdrop of ever-tightening GDP constraints requiring improved temperature control and load security.

The challenge ahead

As one of the UK’s leading distributors of pharmaceutical, medical and health and beauty products, this company can operate a fleet of over 1,200 vehicles, travelling approximately 40 million miles every year delivering medicines and other healthcare products to customers around the country.

Half of the company’s existing fleet is made up of temperature-controlled vehicles and they were seeking a long-term partner to gradually replace their non temperature-controlled stock to fully satisfy GDP compliance across the entire fleet. In line with strict operating requirements, the vans needed to have a controlled ambient section at +8°C to +25°C in the main load space area and a small section for refrigerated pharmaceuticals at +2°C to +8°C.

CoolKit, recognised as a trailblazer in temperature-controlled solutions, entered a tender process to gain this opportunity and were finally selected after a long, highly competitive process.

The pharmaceutical distributor said: “CoolKit were chosen for listening, innovating and collaborating extensively, building on their relationship with Volkswagen, who has chosen them as their Integrated Partner. They proved their capability in complex prototype development and testing and clearly had ample capacity to deal with this large order.”

The innovative solution

Cameron Javed, Head of Technical & Development at CoolKit, said: “We designed an innovative solution which would heat the load space through a heat exchanger; the tubes and fins of the heat exchanger absorb the heat from the cooling circuit of the engine and then air flowing through it is heated up and diverted into the load space.

The load space is cooled by an evaporator fitted above the cab, which maximises load space available by not extending into it. Both the heater matrix and cooling evaporators distribute temperature-controlled air through concealed ducts in the roof and floor of the insulated lining and into the load space providing uniform temperature control in the compartment. We have a patent pending on this product.”

Cameron continued “The system is configured to prohibit driver intervention. All the driver needs to do is drive the van and the temperature control system turns on and off as required.”

The prototype converted Volkswagen Crafter van was extensively tested at MIRA in a climatic wind tunnel with chassis dynamometer to replicate the worst case conditions the vehicle could operate in, down to -15°C and up to +40°C with solar simulation.

At one point the external temperature of the van roof reached +72°C and we still managed to maintain the required operating temperature of +8°C to +25°C in one compartment and +2°C to +8°C in the other, proving the effectiveness of the insulation and climate control system installed.

The vehicles don’t need any externally mounted refrigeration unit condensers, making it a more aerodynamic solution, as well as one which does not impact on WLTP (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure) considerations.

Cameron added: “When we designed this solution, we wanted to maximise up time for the customer. A conventional refrigeration unit requires servicing every 6 months by a specialist mobile engineer. Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles made sure the company’s system would only need servicing when the van required its annual service and could be done by Volkswagen technicians. This saves on cost as well as containing maintenance work to avoid additional wasteful downtime”

The vans were also fitted with CurtAir air curtains replacing traditional PVC strip curtains usually seen on temperature-controlled vehicles, with an effective and invisible climate separation in the vehicle load space. The curtains keep the cold or heat inside during door openings without interference from drivers who tend to move them aside for convenience.

If all that innovation wasn’t enough, a final advancement, critical to the end user, was added. This was the development of a uniquely programmed central locking system that automatically checks and locks all unlocked doors. This was a crucial requirement to exceed the regulatory requirements for the transporting of controlled drugs and afford maximum protection for other high value products.

To deliver this highly complex solution, there has been unprecedented collaboration between Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, CoolKit and numerous other parties providing their own specialist services onsite during the vehicle conversion process, including video recording, telemetry and sign writing.

The collaborative result

After having the prototype vehicle MIRA tested and approved, the pharmaceutical distributor actioned CoolKit to replace their fleet at the rate of 16 vans per week, and deliveries commenced in August 2020.

This is a great example of combining innovation with collaboration, and we hope to continue innovating bespoke solutions to all industries that require temperature controlled solutions. Whether GDP compliance is necessary or not, we will always put the customer’s needs first and use creativity to produce the highest standard of vehicle conversion that is required.