Pharmaceutical Cold Storage Lab

Pharmaceutical Cold Storage Lab


In the pharmaceutical industry, a cold storage unit is “a lab” for scientists, not a walk-in unit located in the corner of a restaurant or convenience store for food storage. “The aesthetics are much more important,” says John Sandall, Scientific Applications Manager for Imperial Brown. “The unit is not just sitting there. It’s where these scientists work. It’s like their office.”

The scientific industry has its own terminology, as well as strict federal standards for the construction of cold-storage products. The cooler is called “a cold room” and the unit itself is called a “scientific chamber” or an “environmental chamber.” 

“It’s always more complicated when you are storing biological samples or drugs,” says Sandall. “Everything is much more critical. The unit, or scientific chamber, must function at plus or minus half a degree. You have to have a very good seal and everything has to fit together perfectly.”

All of this creates interesting challenges on the factory floor. Imperial Brown has years of experience building these scientific chambers.

A recent order for R.W. Smith & Co. of San Diego, recognized as a Top 10 Dealer in the U.S. in the commercial food service industry, involved a project for Pacira Pharmaceuticals Inc. of San Diego. Pacira is a specialty company focusing on clinical and commercial development of products for post-surgical pain control.

The odd shape of the scientific chambers features a sliding door in a 93-inch opening in the cold room, where you enter into a plus 40-degree section. A ramp leads to another 84-inch sliding door to access the freezer. The unit is 36 feet, 2 inches long in the small direction, Sandall says. Imperial Brown’s West Coast facility engineered and built the ceiling to support itself to span the 36 feet without imposing a load on the building structure. “That’s a challenge and difficult for our competitors to do,” Sandall says. “In the freezer, we provided insulated floor panels. The floor had to be built strong enough to support a fork lift, since it was not on an insulated slab,”  as is more typical in large freezers with forklift traffic.

 No wood products can be used in construction in the pharmaceutical industry, so non-wood products were used. It was also built to seismic specs, required in San Diego. “The wall and ceiling panels have to be able to hold themselves up and withstand seismic movement,” Sandall says.

This is a large rectangular unit, measuring more than 73 feet in length and from 33 feet to more than 36 feet in width. The freezer has an inset at the sliding floors and ramp. The freezer itself is 36 feet, 7 inches in length on the longer side and the cold room is 37 feet, 9 inches on its longer side.

“Everyone was extremely happy with the work,” says Sandall, who received word from R.W. Smith’s Phil Summers, division manager, and Laura Baily, project manager, after the successful September installation. “Imperial Brown has continued to gain market share in this very demanding market sector due to our commitment to quality, service and attention to detail,” says Sandall.