The need for blood and blood products is growing as modern healthcare systems have evolved, life expectancies have increased, and diseases have a higher incidence. The new treatments and practices and greater sophistication of surgical and medical procedures have intensified the need for the availability of blood transfusions and blood products. This in turn is driving the market for blood bank refrigerators.

The blood bank refrigerators segment is majorly driven by steady rise in the number of blood banks in developing and developed regions. According to the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (India), there were approximately 2760 registered blood banks in India in 2015 and the number is expected to reach 3000 in the next 2 years. The rising number of blood banks would contribute to market growth.

The adoption of stringent healthcare and regulatory policies is pushing demand. Various regulatory bodies, organizations, and the governments across the world are on a constant drive to ensure that safe blood and blood products are provided, and to incorporate guidelines in the national healthcare policy and infrastructure to ensure appropriate storage.

Vendors are on a constant endeavor to improve the top-to-bottom distribution of temperature in blood bank refrigerators for preserving the integrity of blood products, irrespective of inventory load. They are implementing various ways like abating cold air loss, providing insulated windows, and forced air circulation to maintain temperature uniformity. Many blood banks consider temperature uniformity for blood bank refrigerators to be ±1°C and have included this specification in their internal protocols/SOPs.

The market is moderately concentrated with the presence of large- and small-sized vendors. The market is currently dominated by international providers and the competition among these players is intense. Vendors compete on the basis of safety, capacity, efficiency, reliability, features, and price.

International Market Dynamics

The global blood bank refrigerators market is expected to reach USD 990 million by 2019 growing at a CAGR of over 5 percent over the next 4 years. The fragility of blood has created demand for blood bank refrigerators in the medical, scientific, and research sectors. The market is likely to witness steady growth during 2015 to 2019 with the biggest growth opportunities coming from Latin America, Eastern Europe, and APAC as the healthcare environment is improving in these regions.

The blood bank refrigerators market in North America is likely to grow at a CAGR of over 5 percent to exceed USD 410 million. The US was the largest market in 2014 owing to the presence of a large number of hospitals, blood banks, and bio-repositories. The market is well established and is growing at a steady rate.

The primary demand will be from replacement decision of customers, who want better financial returns and risk reduction. New blood bank refrigerators are being designed to be sturdier so as to reduce the frequency of costly downtime situations. In addition, rising incidents of cardiovascular, cancer, and autoimmune diseases, and advances in clinical trials have increased the dependency on blood and blood products, creating a need for blood bank equipment.

The blood bank refrigerators market in APAC market is likely to grow to USD 189 million by 2019, accounting for a CAGR of over 6 percent. The rise in diseases and increase in population have resulted in increased healthcare needs, which are the primary drivers of demand in the region. According to Technavio, economic progression in countries such as India and China, has led to growth in investments in healthcare and research. An increasing number of contract research organizations in this region have spurred the growth of laboratories, thus boosting the demand for equipment.

Choosing a Blood Bank Refrigerator

When choosing a cold chain refrigerator for blood or vaccine, there are many factors to consider. A refrigerator must be properly sized to both meet the refrigeration needs of the facility and fit within the facility's overall energy system capacity. Another key consideration is holdover time, which must be appropriate for the reliability of the facility's energy supply; if the facility receives intermittent power, a longer holdover time will be required. Further issues include: temperature zone (based on the regional climate), daily icepack freezing capacity, reliability, and price. A thorough analysis of all of these considerations will help to ensure the sustainability of the facility's cold chain refrigerator.

Size and energy use. Refrigeration requires significant energy and choosing a refrigerator which is properly sized for the intended need is critical. Oversized blood bank refrigerators have been observed in many developing countries. Use the vaccine storage capacity or blood storage capacity of the refrigerator, typically reported in liters or number of packs, to choose a unit properly sized for the needs to the facility. Manufacturers should state the typical energy consumption, in kWh per 24 hours. These data should be available for both stable running conditions and contents cool down, and should reflect performance at the maximum rated ambient temperature for the equipment (temperature zone rating). Energy consumption will vary based on refrigerator capacity and type; sufficient manufacturer's data should allow for a fair product comparison based on energy consumption.

Intended use. The cold chain requirements for blood and vaccine differ slightly; blood must be kept at 2°C to 6°C while vaccine must be kept at 2°C to 8°C. While this difference may seem minor, it can make a large difference in the delivery of usable blood. If a refrigerator is intended to be used for the storage of blood, a unit designed for that purpose should be chosen, as proper storage conditions cannot be guaranteed otherwise.

Temperature zones. Understand temperature zones when evaluating equipment. Equipment is rated to maintain required storage temperatures under ambient temperatures for various climate types. For example, hot zone-rated equipment must perform when subjected to ambient temperatures of up to 43°C; temperate and moderate zone temperature thresholds have also been developed. Temperatures/geographic zone determinations should be based on the prevailing climate of the area.

Storage capacity. Vaccine storage capacity is often reported in liters. This is a primary consideration when choosing a medical refrigerator. Storage capacity should align with the needs of a particular facility. Undersized units will compromise the viability of the cold chain, while oversized units may stress the facility's energy system.

Daily icepack freezing capacity. Capacity is crucial if large quantities of frozen icepacks are needed and/or when the appliance is also used for vaccines. If the program requires only icepack freezing, and capacity is not a major concern, any locally available freezer with low power consumption can be used. According to WHO standards, any combination refrigerator and icepack freezer should be able to freeze at least 1.6 kg of icepacks per day. Dedicated vaccine/icepack freezers should have a daily freezing capacity of 7.2 kg, while icepack-only freezers should freeze 2.4 kg/day.

Power source. If the facility is connected to the grid or a generator, voltage stability may be an issue. If the power supply frequently generates surges, dips, or other fluctuations in voltage, the refrigerator may be damaged. In this case, an automatic voltage regulator (AVR) should be connected to the refrigerator in order to ensure that it receives high-quality power; some manufacturers offer AVRs as an option. Refrigerating equipment designed specifically for use with a dedicated solar system run on 12 V or 24 V DC power.

Holdover time during power failures. Continuous refrigeration is required for vaccine storage, and it is often difficult to ensure this in areas where power sources are intermittent or fuel is of poor quality. Ice-lined refrigerators can provide stable refrigeration even in areas of intermittent power. The longer the holdover time of the refrigerator, the better the chances the vaccine will survive a power outage. According to WHO standards, a standard compression medical refrigerator should have a holdover time of no less than 4 hours. Ice-lined refrigerators should have a holdover time of at least 20 hours. Solar-powered refrigerators should have a holdover time of 3 hours, if connected to a battery, and 20 hours if directly supplied by PV panels (i.e., no battery).

Way Forward

The type or size of the refrigerator selected and physical placement within the lab will be unique to the needs and layout of each lab, but consideration should be given to efficient user access and proper segregation of products and specimens.

As with any technology acquisition, it is important to find the best refrigeration type and configuration unique to the individual lab. With this in mind, the lab should determine its core needs and then incorporate and arrange the devices accordingly.

For a small lab with limited space, having a greater number of smaller, under-counter units may be preferable to fewer upright units. For larger labs with more space flexibility, the opposite may be true. Regardless, all clinical labs that utilize refrigerated products should seek to acquire medical-grade devices in order to ensure product and specimen integrity.

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