July 1, 2017 (Vol. 37, No. 13)
Ultracool Technology Aims to Eliminate Physical and Operational Meltdowns
In the spring of 2016, the lab freezers at the University of Alberta failed, melting 13% of the geological ice cores stored there, and leaving a 22,000-year gap in geologic knowledge. Several years earlier, in 2012, the freezers at the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center failed, thawing one-third of the brains that were stored there for the purpose of autism research.
To help labs eliminate the risk of freezer failure, Panasonic Healthcare North America (Panasonic) launched the new TwinGuard® MDF-U702VXC-PA freezer at the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) in May 2017. This ultralow (–86°C) freezer features two compressors as a failsafe.
“The TwinGuard series of freezers is the first dual-cooled ultralow-temperature refrigeration system in the world,” says Steven Lynum, senior vice president of Panasonic Healthcare. “The compressors run in tandem. Therefore, there’s no failover process. Instead, if one compressor fails, the other already is working and picks up the load,” Lynum says, and the system holds the temperature at –70°C until the issue is resolved.
In addition to dual compressors, the TwinGuard system is designed to retain the cold longer, even without power. For example, Lynum says, “Panasonic freezers have both inner and outer doors. If you’re opening the bottom, the top will remain closed.”
A proprietary air flow design helps maintain temperature uniformity. Although Panasonic’s TwinGuard freezers have 576 spots in which a two-inch box of vials can be placed, “no matter where they are, the temperature will be accurate to plus or minus one degree,” Lynum says.
The TwinGuard refrigeration system incorporates multiple alarms, critical for biobank applications, in case of malfunctions or power failures. “There are both audible and visual alarms on the freezers’ LCD panels. Some clients also link our equipment to LabAlerts, our cloud-based remote monitoring solutions, which emails key personnel in case of disruptions.”
In June 2017, Panasonic introduced what Lynum calls “the gold standard in energy-efficient, ultralow- (–86°C) temperature freezers.” Called the VIP ECO, he says expects it to receive Energy Star certification shortly.
The VIP ECO also addresses many of the concerns customers have expressed about ultralow-temperature freezers. For example, the VIP ECO features an automatic vacuum release port and an easy-opening handle that would allow the door to be opened again immediately after it is closed. The gaskets also were redesigned to resist the damage that occurs when users scrape away ice buildup.
For the VIP ECO and TwinGuard systems, Panasonic uses compressors that are designed specifically for ultralow-temperature freezers. That’s not standard across the industry, Lynum points out. “Some use commercial-grade compressors or compressors designed for air conditioners. The difference is very important.”
A History of Firsts
In 1966, Panasonic became the world’s first manufacturer of pharmacy-grade refrigeration systems. “As pharmaceuticals became more valuable, people realized they had to control their storage temperatures,” Lynum says. That understanding led to Panasonic developing the first thin-wall freezer and the first cryogenic freezer, along with many other firsts.
When choosing freezers, Lynum says, “You want to look first at the reliability of the manufacturing process.” Panasonic’s quality management process ensures the same standards are met regardless of where the equipment is manufactured. “Whether our freezers are manufactured in Taiwan, Korea, or China, the equipment is all the same,” he emphasizes.
Lynum also advises users to look for variability in set-up procedures: “Some manufacturers need to adjust their equipment to ensure it’s set up properly before customers use it.”
Panasonic Healthcare North America is a subsidiary of Panasonic Healthcare of Japan, which is owned by Panasonic Healthcare Holdings. KKR, a global investment firm, and Mitsui & Co. (one of Japan’s largest diversified corporations) control the holding company. The North American operations team focuses on sales and customer outreach, including bringing customers’ requests back to the design and engineering team in Japan.
“That structure creates opportunities for Panasonic,” Lynum says. For example, KKR also invests in HCA Healthcare. Mitsui considers the medical/healthcare sector a key domain and invests heavily into the sector throughout Asia. “Panasonic is the dominant player in Japan (where our biomedical business has about a 45% market share) and throughout Asia,” adds Lynum.
Panasonic’s North American biomedical business is growing tremendously, according to Lynum. “We’re focused on the biomedical business, and most of our pharmaceutical clients are along the East Coast,” he says. The clients include academic institutions, government and big pharma, and, increasingly, fast-growing biomedical companies. Notes Lynum, “We want to be known as a manufacturer of life-science equipment, providing better products (than what’s currently available) for [the North American] market,” he says.
Panasonic Healthcare North America
Location: 1300 Michael Drive, Suite A, Wood Dale, IL 60191
Phone: (800) 858-8442
Principal: Steven Lynum, Senior Vice President
Number of Employees: 100
Focus: Panasonic Healthcare North America provides freezers, incubators, autoclaves, cell-processing workstations, biological safety cabinets, and LabAlert software for biomedical organizations in North America.