In my previous post, I discussed the benefits and costs of ultra-low temperature walk-in freezers for biobanking, and I concluded it would only be a smart choice under very specific circumstances. As it turns out, one of our customers had those “very specific circumstances,” and we designed and constructed an ultra-low temperature walk-in solution for them.
Here are answers to some of the most common questions asked about this unique project:
Why did the biobank need an ultra-low temperature walk-in?
Thermo Fisher Scientific’s biobanking client had a large sample collection previously maintained in more than 80 ultra-low temperature mechanical freezers. As the number of samples continued to grow and older freezers began to need replacement, it was determined that a new storage method was necessary. An ultra-low temperature walk-in freezer would be more flexible, upgradable, energy efficient and cost-effective than the current system. Additionally, the client’s samples were mainly archival – meaning employees wouldn’t be frequently moving material in and out of the freezer.
In some respects, it would seem that this situation would be well-suited to an automated, high-density ultra-low temperature storage environment, where robotic arms bring samples out of -80°C storage and into a -20°C staging room. However, the client had samples of many different sizes and formats, making a robotic arm an impractical choice.
Was the whole room kept at -80°C?
Maintaining an entire room at ultra-low temperatures is extremely difficult –and unnecessary. Thermo Fisher’s design contained a main room at -20°C and smaller reach-in bays containing “dresser drawers” that are maintained at -80°C for actual sample storage. This design is more efficient than a full walk-in and only exposes staff to ultra-low temperatures for a short period of time.
Are the employees safe at such low temperatures?
Employee safety is one of the primary concerns when designing an ultra-low temperature walk-in freezer. Thermo Fisher adapted equipment used in arctic expeditions to protect staff working in the freezer. The personal protective equipment includes insulated boots, thermal overalls, a thermal jacket, gloves with thermal liners, a hat/face mask and goggles.
What standard operating procedures had to be established?
The unique challenges of working at ultra-low temperatures required Thermo Fisher to develop strict procedures to keep employees and valuable samples safe. For example, staff can spend a maximum of eight minutes inside the freezer. A second staff member observes the cold worker at all times from a window into the freezer. In addition, access to the -80°C compartments is limited so the temperature can recover after being opened and exposed to warmer air.
How are samples efficiently moved in and out of the freezer?
Given the limited amount of time staff can access the walk-in, moving samples from dozens of mechanical freezers was no small task. Thermo Fisher ended up designing special “dry ice carts” that can be used to transport samples in and out of the walk-in while maintaining temperature compliance and minimizing the risk of cross-contamination. Inventory management was key while loading the freezer – staff had to know exactly where to transfer each sample so they could work quickly and efficiently during their limited time with access to the walk-in.
How did the biobank benefit from the ultra-low temperature walk-in? What was the ROI?
The new ultra-low temperature walk-in consolidated samples from over 80 mechanical freezers and reduced storage space by about 50%. Energy consumption was also halved, and maintenance costs for the aging mechanical units were eliminated. With these savings, the new unit is expected to return the cost of construction within two or three years.
This customer had a unique set of circumstances that made their biobank a perfect candidate for an ultra-low temperature walk-in freezer from Thermo Fisher Scientific. With careful planning and detailed standard operating procedures, staff can safely work in ultra-low temperature conditions, samples can be appropriately stored –and energy and maintenance costs can be reduced.