The future of cold storage

insights from industryJean FallacaraManaging DirectorinTEST Thermal Solutions

Could you please introduce yourself and outline your role at inTEST Thermal Solutions?

My name is Jean Fallacara, and I am the Managing Director at inTEST Thermal Solutions. Our work includes developing and contributing to the future of cold storage solutions for a wide range of needs.

Can you explain how cold storage has changed over the past decade?

The whole industry changed on the 12th of June 2012. That night, at McLean hospital- Harvard Medical- a freezer failed without sending alarms, and it resulted in a third of their samples being wasted. At that time, I was actually working in R&D on a new technology that would later be recognized as the TWINCORE: a new concept of ULT freezers, offering total sample security, remote monitoring and self-diagnostics.

Back then, almost all freezers on the market were using cascade technology, with all its limitations: basically, if one of the two compressors used in these systems failed, samples were lost.

The McClean failure was, for me, the sign that something had to be changed. This is how we came up with revolutionizing the cold storage market: by bringing the Safest ULT Freezer ever built. We have truly changed the path of cold storage by offering Peace of Mind with real redundant cooling systems, featuring state-of-the-art remote monitoring and self-diagnostics capable of forecasting potential failure using an algorithm based on crucial integrity parameters.

Obviously, when I look at the number of manufacturers using this principle now, I must say that I do think the technology was right. After all – manufacturers only copy the best designs.

If we look at the last two years, it is clear to see that the market has changed again as a result of COVID; even the layman, regarding what a ULT or Vaccine Freezer is and what it does. However, as a result, the market became very crowded and competitive – in addition to the overflow of used freezers which is flooding the resale market.

The good news, at least from an innovative company point of view, is that our industry is still struggling with proper monitoring. Often, cloud storage solutions are not appropriate or inadequate.

That is exactly where inTEST Thermal fits in. Cloud monitoring is one step, but there is a long road after that - Web 3.0 is at our doors, and more and more people are tired of fake alarms, which cost money and resources. This is what inTEST Thermal is preparing for: Artificial intelligence, Virtual Reality and the Metaverse.

Image credit: inTEST Thermal Solutions

How has inTEST Thermal Solutions been a part of this change?

The acquisition of Z-Sciences Corp. inTEST, a company that was already among the most advanced companies in Thermal technologies, has initiated true change in the industry. No one expected the merging of two types of industries, coming from two different worlds. The result is simply disruptive.

To put this in perspective, the cold storage industry evolves at the slowest pace in the whole life science business. Freezers looked the same and used the same technologies for decades and decades – that is, until 2012.

Moreover, there is an unfortunate truth in the fact that some manufacturers have a stake in keeping the market the same. Something I often say is that after 165 million years, dinosaurs were becoming extinct (even prior to the asteroid) – and the only solution to extinction is adaptation.

inTEST has already taken the lead in this change. We are the only company to offer customers the solutions they want rather than merely the solutions they need, which is what many companies can offer. Our motto is “Avoid the meteor.”

Can you describe the range of inTEST Thermal Solutions products and brands?

At inTEST Thermal Solutions, our thermal expertise spans mechanical refrigeration, cryogenics, conduction, convection, thermoelectrics, liquid cooling and gas cooling with temperatures ranging from (minus) -185 °C to (plus) +500 °C and anywhere in between.

We have been around for over 50 years, delivering precision temperature control solutions throughout the world. Today, our four brands are Temptronic, Thermonics, Sigma Systems, and North Sciences, offering products and custom-engineered solutions for thermal testing, process cooling, and biomedical cold storage. We are part of inTEST Corporation, a publicly listed company on NYSE: American, INTT.

Image credit: inTEST Thermal Solutions

What role do thermal test systems play in electronics?

Everything from product development to production testing to failure analysis may need some precise and often extreme temperature control. Understanding the effects of temperature on electronics is critical today, not only to understand the temperatures that cause electronics to fail but also to understand how electronic components’ behavior can change and be affected by temperatures. Think about all the electronics in your car and all the temperature extremes they experience -  and then think about all the electronics in space or industrial applications and the sorts of extremes they could see.

What technological advancements in your devices put you ahead of the competition in this field?

We have the broadest range of temperature control technologies and products on the market today. Many of our competitors make one type of product: a chiller, a chamber, an air stream, a freezer. However, we make them all and deliver the product that is the best fit for your needs. Our proprietary auto-cascade systems use mechanical cooling, i.e., compressor-based cooling, to achieve -100 °C, which is incredibly cold, and we do it without using liquid nitrogen or liquid carbon dioxide.

There are not many companies in the world that can do that. Our ability to solve problems with the right technology and product, rather than force-fitting you into the one product or technology, is proving to be our advantage.

Can you explain the industries that your clients hail from and how they are using your products?

Semiconductor and electronics, as mentioned earlier, are where we started. Today, we have broadened to Mil/Aero, Automotive, Telecomm, and more recently, to Cannabis Production, and now with North Sciences, biomedical cold storage. Really, the need for precision temperature control is everywhere.

What are dual cooling systems, and how has this technology helped clients keep samples safe?

Let me explain this in a simple way: most refrigeration systems use what is called cascade technology to reach ultra-low temperatures. You need two compressors: one that can get down to temperatures of -40 degrees Celsius and one that does the work to pull down from -40 to -80.

As you can imagine, if one of the two systems fails, your freezer fails and your samples are at risk. With the dual cooling systems, only one compressor is required to pull down all the way to minus 80.

Therefore, since most freezers were already made with two compressors, using two compressors that have the capabilities to go down to -80 in our system was an easy choice. Making them totally independent with their own refrigeration piping and system was certainly challenging- but when we look back on it, it was simply common sense.

The huge difference now in dual cooling systems is that most are not redundant: they either cannot keep -80 on one compressor or if an electrical problem occurs with the board, they may fail completely.

Our technology is made differently, with total redundancy and safety features in case of a board failure. They are even designed in such a way that they could be fixed in the field without shutting off the second compressor in case it fails.

The only possible way to compromise storage with our freezers would be a national power failure with no backup generators available - but even then, that cataclysm would have to last for over 12 hours, because our freezer can hold a safe freezing temperature up to 12 hours, without using any LN2 or CO2 backup system. We have the Safest ULT freezer in the world. inTEST is offering peace of mind – which is priceless.

Image credit: inTEST Thermal Solutions

How does inTEST Thermal Solutions tailor its temperature control systems to individual clients?

As I mentioned, inTEST are experts with a variety of thermal engineering approaches. We are able to tailor heating and cooling solutions to our customers’ exact needs because of the large portfolio of technologies we have to solve the problem.

Our customers often have limitations in their facilities – things like limited high voltage, small space or limited footprints, no facility water supply, poor ventilation, no LN2 or LCO2 , and so on. We can overcome these limitations because we have so many ways to attack these problems.

Furthermore, it is important to note that all of our control engineering is done in-house, so we put a smart, powerful digital controller together with the ideal cooling or heating technology and deliver a perfect fit for our end users. Our product is the right size/footprint; it uses the right amount of electricity; it goes to the exact - and sometimes, extreme - temperatures needed, and it changes and controls temperatures precisely as required.

How does inTEST Thermal Solutions support clients after the product they select is in operation?

Today, we are a global company with service depots in North America, Europe, and Asia and a network of over 25 local offices and representatives across the globe. We are big enough to span the world, but not so big that our clients cannot just call us and reach someone on the phone.

In the future, we will offer solution support and technical assistance through the training of even-more-remote assistance through virtual reality systems, which will be incredibly useful to our customers during installation. This will offer our clients access to a database of knowledge – close to a WhitePaper – which will be directly accessible from either your virtual reality goggles, your computer or your smartphone. Accessing the inTEST Metaverse room will be part of the features that our products will offer in the very near future.

What other advantages do your clients gain from the company’s over five decades in the refrigeration field?

Our five decades of experience means that we have seen it all. We are used to supporting customers with critical production lines that have millions of dollars per hour at stake if our equipment does not work. Our systems are used to test parts and components used in space exploration – where, as you might imagine, there is no option of sending a technical support assistant up to fix the issue.

With pressures like this, we have precise processes in place to ensure that inTEST Thermal’s products do their job perfectly. All of this is the type of high-stakes temperature control situation that made North Sciences a perfect fit for inTEST Thermal.

What does the future hold for cold storage?

I think that the future of cold storage is likely to shift to new technologies. I am not talking about compressor development when I say this. Instead, I am talking about fusion technologies or most probably some derivations from Bose-Einstein condensate, using laser beams to take energy away from the atoms. These new laser-based approaches are going to drastically change the way we produce cold systems in general.

What are some of the challenges that your consumers face?

The biggest challenge consumers face today is the availability and prevalence of misinformation. For example, look at the Energy Savings marketing:  consumers do not often consider that saving 5 KW/24 H results only in a few hundred dollars per year, while their average sample value is about ten times that amount. They keep opting for a risky system that saves a bit of energy rather than making sure their samples are safely stored. If you do not have reliability and total sample security, no other benefits or features really matter.

The second challenge is the unpredictable timing of errors. Often, consumers have to call out of hours if they have samples at risk and no plan to move them to an alternate place. An unplanned failure is catastrophic to our end users and they always seem to happen in the middle of the night or on the weekend.

The third challenge is budget compression and the increased availability of poor-quality but truly affordable Freezers. The cold storage industry is shifting from a capital equipment point to a consumable products standpoint.

How will inTEST Thermal Solutions help them meet and overcome these challenges?

At inTEST, we have one idea which is prioritized, and that is offering peace of mind to our customers. We do not want them to worry about their samples; with a North Sciences freezer or refrigerator, our clients can be reassured that inTEST has their interests protected.  

All these challenges – and our solutions – need to be explained properly. Those in the Science & Life Science Industry have a keen knowledge of the field, so the hope is that they will be able to easily understand how the reliability and predictability that we are building into North Sciences products helps them overcome those challenges. 

How does inTEST Thermal Solutions intend to integrate AI into its systems?

Artificial intelligence is already everywhere. It is not new in any way. The only thing that is new is how much attention we pay to AI. We can easily turn our phone into a thermostat if we want to – it is simply that we notice it more now.

All the new controllers installed on our systems are ready for artificial intelligence integration. We are simply bridging the gap: connecting the dots to create solutions that the customer needs and wants. The need – or the want – is already there: we are just filling the gap.

What role will the Metaverse play in the next generation of your products? 

The Metaverse is already part of Web 3.0. Quite simply, it is how people will interact, chat, play, discuss, share, work, and learn in the near future.

When you think about ultra-cold storage - or any product in the science industry in general - Technical Support, learning, and diagnostic are part of them. You do not buy a product for your lab without knowing what you are doing and how it works.

However, when purchasing a research product, you know you want to explore more and use it in different ways. That is why our goal is to be the first in the Metaverse, offering access to large databases of knowledge, applications, and even competitor information to our clients or any user or researcher.

Information is power, and simply put, we know that this is how the industry is going to improve. InTEST is going to lead the way for a whole new world within the cold storage industry.

About Jean Fallacara

Jean Fallacara is a serial entrepreneur, scientist, athlete, engineer, and author of a futuristic biohacking book. Born in France, Jean has always been a strong advocate of getting control of your body to improve your wellness and longevity.

Since the young age of 24, Jean’s entire life has been about being an entrepreneur. By using creativity and ideas of leadership, he has become the founder of a few success stories.

 

About inTEST Thermal Solutions

inTEST Thermal Solutions (iTS) specializes in the design and manufacture of precision temperature control systems. Our breadth of products and in-house engineering capabilities allow us to be a single-partner-solution for thermal test, process cooling, and cold storage applications. We are recognized globally for our expertise in precise temperature control and simulation of extreme thermal environments, from -185 to +500 °C, with rapid transitions or long dwell times. The iTS family includes four product brands: Temptronic, Sigma Systems, Thermonics, and North Sciences. inTEST Thermal Solutions is a wholly owned subsidiary of inTEST Corp, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, USA.


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