Vaccine Refrigerator B130/10/220H Donated to Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation

Minus40 take pride in assisting in quality healthcare and have donated a B130/10/220H Holdover Vaccine Refrigerator to the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation whom treat, support and assist HIV patients.

The B130 Vaccine Refrigerator was specifically developed to WHO PQS specification standards and sponsored by the South African National Department of Health together with independent testing by the CSIR. This unit was designed for duty where there is risk to reliable and continuous power supply. It will hold the fridge temperature between 2˚C and 8˚C for more than 48 hours at an ambient temperature up to 32˚C. This gives clients the assurance that their vaccines will retain its efficacy and shelf life, provided electrical power is restored within 48 hours. The vaccine refrigerator also has the unique feature of having a freezer compartment for freezing ice packs that are subsequently used in cooler boxes for transporting vaccines to remote locations during vaccination campaigns. The B130 Vaccine refrigerator is built to handle the robust duties expected in an African environment with a legacy of longevity in the field (early examples are still working after more than 20 years’ service.). The unit comes with the Minus 40 Warranty and can be specified with a service package.

Our very own Sales Executive for the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State, Angola and Namibia, Twanette Muller, was on site to do the handover in which the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation are very grateful.  Twanette was in turn told by the staff of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation that they only believe and trust in the Minus40 product.  They have previously ordered directly from us and we were glad we could assist in donating a unit.

To find out more about our B130/10/220H Vaccine Refrigerator please click here.


S430Sushi Freezer delivered in Constantia

We have just delivered our 430L Sushi Freezer to Kate & Nick in Constantia – We hope you guys enjoy it!

The Sushi Range of Freezers have specifically been designed to operate at low freezing temperatures of up to -40˚C to preserve food over longer periods and with greater food safety assurance. All units have been designed with efficient thermal insulation to ensure that temperatures are efficiently maintained with the lowest energy consumption possible in ambient conditions up to 35˚C.

The current Freezer range includes 3 sizes of chest freezer, from a 60ltr unit for small restaurants or café’s, to a 230ltr chest freezer for medium sized restaurants that want to store all their fish and meat for their outlet, to a 430ltr chest freezer for larger restaurants and retailers. All units can be purchased with an independent temperature monitoring device that records the past 30 days of internal freezer temperature, giving additional assurance that the cold chain has operated optimally.

All Freezers require 220volt AC power supply.

Click here to view our Sushi Freezers


Specialised Medical Refrigeration – Reliability is Key

By Ilana Koegelenberg

From the laboratory to the clinic, the pharmacy and even on the road — what is the importance of refrigeration in maintaining the medical cold chain?

MF002Vaccines can become ineffective if stored at the wrong temperature for prolonged periods.
Image credit:

Refrigeration plays a major role in the medical field (I’m resisting the urge to call it ‘a matter of life and death’, even though it is). It is vital, particularly when it comes to storing vaccines, blood or organs — and even in the mortuary. Temperature-sensitive items rely on refrigeration that is reliable, consistent, and durable. What types of refrigeration are used in the medical field and what are the challenges we face in South Africa, in particular with regard to maintaining the medical cold chain?

Disclaimer: As usual, this seemed like a pretty straightforward topic when I pinned it to my features list. However, when I started looking into it, I realised just how wide this topic actually stretched. Each sector could literally be its own feature. I’ve collected bits and pieces of information on the topic, but please note, once again, this is by no means a comprehensive guideline.

Patient, product, operator
When it comes to all things pharmaceutical, my first call is always to Basil Mugwagwa, maintenance manager at Pharmacare Limited (trading as Aspen Pharmacare) and ad hoc RACA Journal contributor.

“The topic is quite wide as the medical side of refrigeration can be looked at from either the angle of patient safety (theatres, patient comfort, and so forth) or from medicinal product safety (looking at storage conditions, such as temperature and humidity control of medicines),” Mugwagwa explained.

“What you need to remember in the medical field is the golden rule of patient, product, and operator in all you do,” he said.

Patient: the medication must reach the patient in a safe manner and in the right state/form and dosage (temperature / humidity control is vital here).

“Vaccines are very temperature sensitive and must be stored within specifications.”

Product: must always be in its intended purest form (efficacy and purity) without any cross-contamination. (Think of the role of temperature and humidity when certain medicines change state, say from ointment to liquid.)

Operator: be it the nurse, doctor, pharmacist or any other medical personnel in the value chain, they should be protected from unintended intake of medication. (It’s all about the right temperature and humidity — think of liquids that can turn to vapour and inhaled unintentionally due to high temperature.)

At the centre of it all is the ventilation, air movement, and containment in the medical field. It’s not just about refrigeration, but HVAC as well. But for this particular feature, we’ll focus more on the refrigeration side of things, looking at how to keep product at its desired temperature.

So where does one start?

Why keep it cold?
Step one – why is refrigeration important when it comes to vaccines in particular? Not too long ago, there was an interesting article on about exactly this — and particular to South Africa. It highlighted that domestic fridges were often used in doctors’ rooms, which may not store temperature-sensitive vaccines properly, leaving them ineffective.

If vaccines are not kept strictly at the right temperature they will not work. There is growing concern internationally and in South Africa that many health care providers are unaware they are administering vaccines rendered useless through inadequate refrigeration in domestic or ‘bar’ fridges.

The problem can be addressed, however, through regular ‘temperature mapping’ of fridges, which is now a requirement of the Pharmacy Act.

MF003Refrigeration is vital in mortuaries to keep bodies from decomposing too fast.
Image credit:

Vaccines are highly effective — if stored correctly. “Vaccines are very temperature sensitive and must be stored within specifications,” confirms Dr Melinda Suchard, head of the Centre for Vaccines and Immunology at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Certain vaccines are particularly fragile. Live vaccines (such as for measles) may lose potency if stored at too high temperatures. Diluent (liquid mixed with some vaccines) may also be a problem if it is stored too cold and accidentally freezes. Vaccines for tetanus, human papilloma virus, pneumococcal disease, and rotavirus, for example, are destroyed by accidental freezing.

Health professionals may not realise they are administering an ineffective vaccine. The handling toolkit for the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s vaccine storage states that when some vaccines accidentally freeze, there is no visual evidence this has occurred.

A recent review of research on temperature variations during refrigeration by the United States’ National Institute of Standards and Technology showed that 13.5% of vaccines get accidentally frozen. In South Africa, this number is probably even higher.

The CDC warns against using domestic or bar fridges to store vaccines, and recommends continuous temperature monitoring to avoid vaccine damage.

Dr James Southern, advisor to the Medicines Control Council (MCC), states that vaccines should be stored between 2°C and 8°C. “Many routine domestic refrigerators run at above this, some even at +15°C in hot weather. This shortens a vaccine’s overall shelf-life. Some vaccines are reasonably stable up to 25°C, but only for short excursions, up to an hour perhaps. Live vaccines are less stable, but they are freeze-dried for extra protection,” he says.

One dangerous practice is reconstituting freeze-dried vaccines, then returning them to the fridge, or leaving the vial on the bench for a while. They’ll usually be stable for a couple of hours, but then rapidly lose potency. Bright light can also damage their potency. Vaccines come with vial monitors that show if the cold chain has been broken and the product is no longer effective.

“Replacing multi-dose vials in the fridge after removing a few doses is also risky. Theoretically, they should be fine for a week or more, but any contamination or exposure to warmer temperatures can damage them,” says Dr Southern.

Douglas Siepman, CEO of 5nines, which conducts temperature compliance monitoring, reckons that around 90% of the domestic refrigerators they have analysed failed to meet vaccine storage standards.

Damaged vaccines are also a financial burden. For example, if a specific flu vaccine for infants costs about R500 a shot, a public health care facility can, at any given time, have half a million to a million rands worth of stock in a single fridge. If that refrigerator goes out of range (correct temperature) the vaccines would have to be discarded because they would have lost their efficacy.

Rules and regulations
Mugwagwa sent me a whole series of emails on standards and regulations that relate to the medical field which really is strictly regulated and precise (although, as usual, we struggle with non-compliance). There simply isn’t space (or time) to go into all of these in detail so here’s the ‘executive summary’.

MF004You need very specific fridges when it comes to maintaining the medical cold chain — not just beverage coolers.

In February 2015, the Pharmacy Act was amended to require that anyone storing, distributing or administering vaccines must use appropriate storage areas and temperature-monitoring instruments, along with conducting regular checks including annual temperature mapping. However, compliance to these regulations is poor, particularly in the private sector including retailers.

The standards are all World Health Organisation (WHO) related as detailed in the main documents. These are grouped under four sections, namely:
Oral Solid Dosage (OSD) — which are the normal tablets and powders.
Sterile — these include injections, drips, and ointments and are taken directly into the blood stream; hence, very critical in nature.
Liquids — liquids that are taken by way of mouth (oral), as well as for wounds — external application.
Biological — human tissue, as well as dangerous live organisms.

Good baseline guidelines are the WHO TRS 961 and 957 which lead to the other guidelines for sterile and so forth.

Then there are documents like ISO 14644 part 1 to part 4, which regulate the facility design and the requirements for this.

Look out for storage guidelines too; these normally come as supplementary guidelines.

ASHRAE has also published numerous standards, including a guideline specifically for HVAC&R in the medical field. This can be downloaded from their website upon registration.

All about temperature control
The manufacturing of medical refrigeration must include effective and sturdy insulation. If there is a power cut and the refrigeration systems are left with no electricity source, the unit is expected to be able to hold its temperature for approximately one day — provided that the door remains sealed for the duration until power is restored.

Minus 40 has been manufacturing medical refrigeration and equipment for almost three decades at its modern plant situated next to Cape Town International Airport. From vaccine fridges and breast milk bank refrigerators to solar refrigeration and even mortuary equipment, they do it all, covering the entire spectrum from birth to death (for both humans and animals).

I chatted to Minus 40 managing director, Michael Werner, about the state of the local medical refrigeration industry and the challenges it faces.

Refrigeration is perceived as being a simple technology, and clients have their perception shaped by their contact with domestic appliances, explains Werner. “However, there is significant complexity with temperature control, inclusive of accommodating defrost cycles and temperature variability that occurs in daily operations when fridges are in use.”

There is a huge challenge to educate clients on how to specify their products correctly to the tolerances that their products require across the cold chain. This is solved by either receiving internationally set standards from customers, usually defined by manufacturers of medicines / vaccines or NGO organisations such as the WHO, or by interacting directly with the customers to help them define optimum operating specifications.

You need very specific fridges when it comes to maintaining the medical cold chain. For example, breast milk has to be kept at <-20°C for five continuous days to kill CMV viruses. Laboratories also have very specific requirements in terms of temperature and humidity control. The requirements have been set, but they are simply not always adhered to.

There actually is better compliance in the government sector than in the private sector, according to Werner. Various national companies are storing their products in domestic and commercial beverage fridges and not complying with regulations.

In 2013, the Gates Foundation did an assessment at the point of inoculation of vaccines in Africa and found the vaccine efficacy failure at a staggering 55% at the point of inoculation in rural areas. South Africa did not score much better either — but this study was not detailed enough. The bottom line is, we have a problem – a big one.

It’s not just about keeping product at the right temperature in the clinics and pharmacies. The correct transport of the sensitive product is also vital to maintain a proper cold chain. Otherwise, the product could be damaged or spoiled even before it reaches its destination.

MF006The correct transport of the sensitive product is vital to maintain a proper cold chain. 
Image credit: Twister

“The thermal stability of several pharmaceuticals places special demands on the refrigeration logistics,” explains Kenan Gröss, managing director at Twister Trans. Numerous statutory specifications and industry standards govern temperature-controlled transport operations and represent a great challenge for shipping and forwarding agents. “The effectiveness of medication and vaccines may become reduced considerably by unavoidable temperature fluctuations during transport,” explains Gröss.

To protect the patients dependent on the medication, the South African government has implemented the Good Distribution Practice (GDP) Directive.

In the morgue
When a body is preserved through refrigeration, it is kept at a temperature below 4.5°C, which sufficiently delays decomposition.

Refrigeration is often employed when there will be no viewing, wake, or visitation, or if the casket will remain closed during the service (as many funeral homes require that the body be embalmed if it is to be on display). Refrigeration is also used if the body will be cremated, as some authorities require that a body be refrigerated for a given amount of time prior to cremation.

If the body will be buried in a ‘green’ cemetery or natural burial ground, the body must be refrigerated as those locations generally do not allow for the burial of embalmed bodies.

It’s not just about installing the right equipment, but also looking after it properly. This is where regular maintenance comes in.

The level of maintenance required for medical refrigeration is quite strict. Regular checks must be made and logged to ensure that all equipment is safe, working at full capacity, and kept in accordance to relevant standards and guidelines.

The question is, is this being done?

Not doing maintenance doesn’t just put the product at risk but can also be costly in terms of having to replace faulty equipment later on. Medical budgets mean that savings must be made wherever possible, so efficient and reliable equipment is essential.

“Customers need to learn that modern refrigeration technology is reliable and durable, but not maintenance free,” explains Werner. “In medical environments such as in hospitals, we assume that the environment is ‘clean’, but the impact of lint, for example, in hospitals results in condensers being blocked, impeding cooling airflow, and ultimately results in fridge failures due to overheating.”

Having disciplined and regular cleaning of the refrigeration system will ensure reliable temperature control within set parameters as well as extending the life of the equipment to decades.

Measurement matters – BMS
Medicines and vaccines often contain active ingredients that are sensitive to light, heat, humidity, and other pollutants. If the environments in which they are manufactured, stored, and distributed are not controlled carefully, their efficacy may be impacted. That control is so important that it has been legislated in South Africa. Building management systems (BMS) and access control solutions are playing an increasingly important role in ensuring that legislation is met.

Proven and approved validation systems help pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution organisations monitor and report on key processes employed in the manufacture of medicines, the environment in which they are stored, and the conditions under which they are handled and transported. “Validation is important for the management of dangerous pathogens — it’s important to control and be able to validate the laboratory conditions in which they are kept and handled, from origination to disposal,” explains Neil Cameron, Johnson Controls area general manager: building efficiency – Africa.

Intelligent BMSs with their capability to measure, monitor and control environments based on preconfigured requirements are important tools to help meet and enforce validation requirements. In South Africa, legislation requires that on receipt of goods the recording devices (temperature data loggers, refrigeration tags, freezer tags, log tags or cold chain monitoring cards) be checked and documented. Elsewhere in the world, more rigorous requirements are in place that require the use of validated technologies.

MF005Vaccines come with vial monitors that show if the medicine has been out of the temperature range and is no longer effective.

In the US, for example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets out validation requirements for BMS. Today, pharmaceutical companies cannot export goods to the US that do not comply with FDA validation requirements. To achieve this validation, organisations must make use of processes and systems that measure, capture, and manage critical information related to the life cycle of the product (manufacture, distribution, and so on) in a secure way.

A BMS for validated environments will, for example, provide scalable configurations, system security, secure data management and reporting, electronic records and signatures, pre-selected and free-form annotations, time-stamped audit trails, extensive integration capabilities at all system levels, Web-based reporting (mean kinetic temperature, trend analysis and alarm analysis), and remote alarming (email, text messaging, and the like).

“Customers need to learn that modern refrigeration technology is reliable and durable but not maintenance free.”

In particular, technologies used for validation need to meet the FDA’s Electronic Records and Signature requirements. To comply, the computer systems used to collect and analyse data must be validated to meet the FDA requirements for electronic records and signatures — that is, these electronic signatures (authorisation) must be legally binding and the electronic records must be protected from point of creation to receipt, meaning any tampering with information must be detectable, explains Cameron.

Using an FDA certified BMS for validated environments the validation process can be integrated or configured within the organisation’s building automation system. Validation can be further implemented within access control systems — an important consideration in the control of disease and handling of dangerous pathogens.

FDA-certified BMSs for validated environments differ from standard BMS. Where a standard BMS will measure the temperature in an environment, a BMS for validated environments will measure and guarantee that temperature — it certifies that the temperature sensor is providing a true value, that the controller to which the sensor information is sent is responding as it should, that the information subsequently stored in the database is secure and cannot be tampered with, and that the output report containing the FDA-required information is protected.

“While implementation of validation systems require effort, once in place, they provide the assurance that validation processes are being followed and that the products the organisation is taking into the market are safe and effective and of the required quality,” says Cameron.

“It’s critical that South Africa begin to make use of the technologies now becoming available to manage, monitor, and validate processes related to manufacturing, storing, and distributing medicines in the country. It will protect us from human error and lower risks, but also help improve processes and raise standards in the industry,” Cameron explains.

Education is key
Werner says he sees a trend towards better education in the medical field. “People are aware that they need to do better; medical practitioners are getting a better understanding. But the finance people governing them do not necessarily understand — that’s the problem. They just want the cheapest model. This is more of a problem in the private sector, as government is more professional in its procurement practices.”

It all comes down to an education process. “Education and legislation go hand in hand. We’re getting there but it’s a slow process,” says Werner. Companies like Netcare for instance have started a drive to dispose of domestic fridges and are now procuring the correct medical fridges.

Government tenders are also becoming much better at specifying what they need.

We still have a long way to go.

Exciting future
So where are we going? “The medical industry is becoming more demanding in terms of specific specifications, including higher attention to quality and service standards due to poor experience from suppliers,” explains Werner. Also, the private sector is asking for increasingly eco-friendly products both in terms of energy efficiency and in materials (specifically refrigerant gases). The government sector is increasingly motivated to buy local to reduce import dependency.

Several exciting things are happening in the medical refrigeration field. For example, Minus 40 has engaged with clients and suppliers to innovate products on an ongoing basis. Recent work with a major South African health care company has resulted in a totally South African developed and manufactured Breast Milk Bank solution, inclusive of milk pasteuriser, fridge, and freezers specific to the milk bank duties, as well as a tracking and product control system to comply with proposed South African regulations coming into effect this year. The solution is a completely integrated Breast Milk Bank system, which is unique and costs less than half of the fragmented elements that were previously imported, with associated support back-up challenges that were prevalent with earlier practices.

Current projects include a unique South African designed and manufactured vaccine refrigeration solution that will comply with WHO PQS certification.

Watch this space. The medical refrigeration market may not be a huge one, but it is a critical one.


Minus40 Bus Fridges for Commercial Vehicle Manufacturers

Minus40 manufactures specially designed bus fridges for Commercial Vehicle Manufacturers.

A local Commercial Vehicle Manufacturer in Cape Town has just recently purchased a few more units and value their continued support.  Their buses are state-of-the-art and therefore deserve only the best equipment.

These units are designed to operate on tough road conditions – making them perfect for the buses that are sent all over Africa.

The Minus40 Bus Fridge has a litre capacity of 40L and has a temperature range of 10ºC to -20ºC.  This is great to keep beverages nice and cool for your customers as well as certain food products.

Give us a call on 021 386 2290 for your Commercial Vehicle refrigeration needs.


Minus40 Seasonal Promotion has come to an end.

To celebrate the Holiday Season and the wonderful destinations available to us in Southern Africa, Minus40 is was offering a special promotional price offer on its renown and durable 4X4 & Camping Fridge/Freezers.  These units are designed to operate in extreme ambient temperatures and on the tough road conditions that your African adventure will present.  You will arrive at your destination confident that your beverages and food have remained at low set point temperatures, ready to be consumed in a magical environment with family and friends.

Keep a look out for next years specials!

Contact us for pricing.


B40 CLASSIC FRIDGE OR FREEZER 40 H LID 490 / H LID UP 800 / W 680 / D 380


B60 CLASSIC FRIDGE OR FREEZER 60 H LID 510 / H LID UP 930 / W 840 / D 520




40 H LID 490 / H LID UP 800 / W 680 / D 380


B60 HARDBODY FRIDGE OR FREEZER 60 H LID 510 / H LID UP 930 / W 840 / D 520

 Click here for more information

The Minus40 4X4 & Camping Fridge/Freezers are equipped with the famed Secop Danfoss Compressors that work on 12v DC and 220v AC power supply so no need for electrical inverters.  All units come standard with wire baskets to ensure even air distribution across the fridge chamber.  The Classic range is constructed from mild steel that is powder coated and has a mechanical thermostat to deliver durable, yet simple refrigeration capability.  The Hardbody range is constructed in stainless steel and has a Danfoss electronic fridge controller to accurately control fridge temperatures.

Click here to contact us

Minus 40 – When Efficacy Is Crucial – RACA Journal

Minus 40 has been locally manufacturing fridges for over 40 years, working hard to up the quality of particularly the medical cold chain in South Africa and beyond.

Minus 40 was founded in 1975 by a truly innovative South African farmer who recognised that the (amazingly late) introduction of television into South Africa would change the way in which rural communities met their energy needs.

The Minus 40 offices in Cape Town

Until then, remote dwellings, farms, and game lodges needing lighting, refrigeration, and cooking facilities, had relied heavily on paraffin and bottled gas. Access to the world of television prompted a switch to diesel-powered generators for primary household energy.

The original innovative products produced by Minus 40 was a range of refrigerators and freezers that incorporated eutectic tanks to ‘store cold’ when power was unavailable. Typically, the household generator would operate for four hours in the evening to provide power for lights and television. The Minus 40 Coldsaver range was designed to absorb sufficient ‘cold’ in this short timeframe to remain at the desired temperature until the next operating period the next day.

As more rural households connected to the Eskom grid, the demand for Minus 40 domestic fridges declined and new applications were sought, leading to the development of other products. Because of reliability and low energy usage, many users in the rural areas still opted for the Minus 40 fridges after being connected to Eskom power, but this was not a growing market.

“The only way to survive is to balance imports with local manufacturing. It’s a high-risk game for anyone who is purely local manufacturing or purely importing.”

Today, the company’s marketing and sales strategy is based on developing product solutions for specific target markets and the needs of those market sectors. With South Africa as the company’s home base, the greater African continent is where the major growth opportunities lie for Minus 40′s solutions.

Minus 40 boasts a dedicated sales team based in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, with own and contracted service technicians who specialise in its product range to serve the southern African market. Sales representatives also regularly visit sub-Saharan African countries to support customers and agents.

A long-established dealer network extending throughout South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Botswana, and Ghana conducts after-sales servicing.


Local vs imported

There has been a history of problems with the efficacy of fridges being supplied to the local medical industry, driven by price rather than function, explains Michael Werner, managing director of Minus 40. And even today, there is still a strong desire to import medical products, as these are perceived to be of higher quality, which isn’t necessarily true.

After the initial run-in with substandard product, the Department of Health (DOH) approached Minus 40 in the late 1990s to start replacing very expensive imported units that didn’t necessarily have the service support behind them. Since then, the company has worked with the DOH, among others, to develop the appropriate vaccine fridges to manage the cold chain to global best practice standards.

Although there is still motivation to go local, driven by the government to localise and keep the money in the country, there is also a big concern with fridge manufacturers supplying beverage coolers and domestic coolers into the market instead of specially designed medical fridges. This all comes down to price. “We have been driven by price in this sector for too long,” explains Werner, “resulting in recipients at risk of receiving medicines with poor efficacy. This is a major problem across Africa, with many research documents by NGOs highlighting this problem.”

The Pharmacies Act of 2015 is attempting to address this issue; however, compliance is still a challenge across both public and private sector health care providers.

Because of this new Act and the history of quality concerns, though, increasingly more public sector clients in particular insist on World Health Organisation (WHO) certification for medical refrigeration products. This is where the dilemma comes in, as there is currently only one manufacturer locally who manufactures WHO-certified fridges, but their products are incredibly expensive.

“Why aren’t we going the WHO-certification route yet? Because the capability to get these fridges certified in this country isn’t there,” explains Werner. If you go externally to certify these fridges, it will cost between R500 000 and R750 000 per fridge to get them initially certified, and then an undefined annual recertification cost. It takes about six weeks to certify a fridge and that is assuming it passes all the tests. “So for us, the biggest challenge right now is getting government to support the investment into local testing facilities to do the certification cheaper.” This is a lot easier said than done, as at the CSIR in 2017, Treasury would not approve the budget for this to be done.

This means that manufacturers still have to go overseas to do this testing. “It’s really a catch-22 situation,” says Werner. “Because if you go overseas to do the test, that cost has to be amortised in the cost of the product that you’re supplying into the market. So, do you supply cost-effectively to the local market with good products, or do you go the WHO-certified route but have to double your price? That’s where we are at the moment. We require more government support and incentive to produce more sophisticated medical equipment locally.”

“South Africa is increasingly losing our skills base. That then plays into the hands of the foreign suppliers. There is no incentive to develop the local industry,” he says.


Other challenges

The other challenge you have in South Africa is that the industry is very small. For true medical refrigeration in terms of the pharmaceutical cold chain, Werner estimates the market to be only about R30-million a year (for both private and government sectors). “If there was more compliance to legislation, it would probably be double that size,” explains Werner. “The worst offenders are the private sector, who still uses beverage coolers and domestic fridges to store the medicine. There is greater compliance in the public sector.”

Another challenge is keeping products relevant to technology. “One advantage of an imported product is that the global medical manufacturers have a much bigger scale for developing the products, making the control systems more IT-orientated.” However, what these imported units are missing is robustness. The products being developed might be very high-tech, but they are being developed for first-world environments. “Third-world environments like South Africa generally have more ‘dirty’ electricity in terms of surges and so on and people look after assets in a more robust manner — we design our local fridges with this in mind,” explains Werner. Which is why the local fridges often outlast the high-tech imports.

Then there is the challenge of keeping up with the Montreal Protocol and the phase out of certain refrigerants globally. Minus 40 products currently run predominantly on R134a and R407. With the phase down of HFCS already underway in Europe, this means that it is becoming harder (and more expensive) to obtain these refrigerants. Not to mention that if they were to apply for WHO-certification, they would have to develop units that run on refrigerants like R290 or R600a instead.

Also, because of the low demand in the local market, the volumes simply do not allow the automation of the factory and the installation of large manufacturing machines. Minus 40 currently employs 21 factory workers and the entire process is very manual. The advantage of this is that it gives them a lot of flexibility to customise a product for a customer, though.

“The challenge going forward for us would be to outsource,” he says. “We simply can’t afford to employ resources ourselves anymore, unless they are highly utilised and productive. The recognition agreement is not conducive to employment.”

“South Africa is increasingly losing our skills base. That then plays into the hands of the foreign suppliers. There is no incentive to develop the local industry.”

As such, Minus 40 is not planning on employing any more people in the immediate future. Because of the Metal and Engineering Industries Bargaining Council (MEIBC), they are forced to pay the highest rates in the country. The problem is that the central bargaining is really geared for the large-scale metal industries in Gauteng, but it means that smaller companies like Minus 40 get no say in the matter. “I think there are employment opportunities, but they’re not in-house anymore,” says Werner. “The trend will increasingly be to outsource. Formal sector employment will reduce and informal contracted in (not hours worked, but products produced) employment will take its place. The textile industry has been doing this for a couple of years already and it is a model that works very well. It is far more cost-effective.”

Another hurdle is B-BBEE and the fact that it is very expensive to maintain, not to mention that the latest scorecard makes it very difficult to get an acceptable rating without diluting company share value, explains Werner. “I try to look at the positive side of things and although it means a lot of paperwork for us, it also means that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for new business to be established — hitting our competition. And this is one of the reasons why imported goods are so attractive.”

“This instability in South Africa regarding legislation and the continuously changing B-BBEE methodology is very expensive,” explains Werner. The audits are a costly exercise as you have to bring in specialist consultants and independent auditors. Then there is also the indirect cost of the working hours it takes to complete all the forms and get everything in order.

The Minus40 Offices in Cape Town
A row of compressors, ready to be installed in the various Minus40 products
About 21 factory workers are currently working at Minus40 , allowing for a more flexible operation in terms of customising units
Minus40 also offers full service and backup for its products
A completed Minus40 fridge on the factory floor
The factory setting predominantly involves a manual process as there simply aren't the volumes to drive automation

Why go local?

So why choose a locally manufactured product over an import? The single biggest driver is price. But the overall winner will be your service reputation, explains Werner. We have very robust handling of equipment in Africa, which means that sophisticated pieces of kit would not last very long in Africa unless it was serviced properly and supported.

Minus 40 does not only provide the product, but enters a three- to five-year service contract with their clients to ensure the product lasts and is properly looked after. What is the point of spending a lot of money on importing a fridge that has no backup for repairs and service? It will just end up costing you more in the end anyway.


Future of local manufacturing?

As mentioned, Werner is an optimist and he believes things will turn around. But for now, the picture is bleak, as government and organised labour seem to be driving businesses out and local manufacturing is becoming less and less, with unemployment soaring.

“The country is becoming increasingly impoverished. But life has a wonderful way of balancing things out. They are stifling competition through these practises they are putting in place. I also recognise that everything that’s being said in the media isn’t really what is happening. Reality also sets in that things like economic transformation will have to be done rationally at an affordable pace. People still need to feed their families and hence, need to be employed.”

The advantage of the economic environment going negative, though, is that the rand starts weakening, giving local manufacturers like Minus 40 the opportunity to price products at a higher level to cover all the additional costs government is placing on business.

The only way to survive, according to Werner, is to balance imports with local manufacturing. “It’s a high-risk game for anyone who is purely local manufacturing or purely importing,” he says.

“We are now finally beginning to see the economic consequences of maladministration over the last five years. It will take a long time to fix; this doesn’t happen overnight. But I’m positive that things will turn around,” he adds.

“An advantage of local skills development and having medical refrigeration technology capability in South Africa is demonstrated by the innovative work done by Minus 40 with other South African entrepreneurs, to develop human milk banks for a major medical company in South Africa. These human milk bank solutions are now recognised by global experts as leading-edge technology that costs less than half of what the imported equivalent equipment costs. The medical company is now rolling out nine of these milk banks across South Africa and they incorporate specially developed milk bank freezers and fridges that have tight temperature parameters, even during the automatic defrost cycles. These units are monitored for performance compliance independently and have advanced data recording and alarm functions should control parameters be exceeded at any time, hence protecting precious product like human milk and colostrum that are critical for premature babies in particular,” he concludes.


Source: Minus 40 - when efficacy is crucial, by Ilana Koegelenberg (

Milk Bank Fridge at Netcare

Minus 40 MBF400 at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital

Minus40 has engaged with clients and suppliers to innovate products on an ongoing basis. Recent work with a major SA health care company has resulted in a totally South African developed and manufactured Breast Milk Bank solution inclusive of milk pasteuriser, fridge and freezers specific to the milk bank duties as well as a tracking and product control system to comply with proposed SA regulations coming into effect this year. The solution is a complete integrated Breast Milk Bank system which is unique and costs less than half of the fragmented elements that was previously imported with associated support backup challenges that was prevalent with previous practice.