They say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. However, there can be no weak link in the cold chain process because a weak link means a product can spoil and become useless. And when that involves medicine, it can have even greater consequences. But, with the help of new cutting-edge technology, those involved in cold chain are finding ways to keep more on top of the shipments as they make their way through all the steps to ensure the worst does not happen.
This article looks at cold chain technology, the different types, which partners can help you solve cold chain issues and the resulting benefits.
What are the Elements of Cold Chain Logistics?
The cold chain process has three key elements that affect or influence not only the journey the shipment will be taking but also the preparation for the journey:
In the cold chain, another level of concern is added to the shipping process because the product is temperature sensitive. The logistics of transporting these goods from one place to another involves ensuring they remain at a specific temperature and, in some cases, humidity during the entire shipping process. It starts with packing, and you can choose from two systems.
- Active: This system consists of containers that use electric or battery-powered temperature controls, pushing cool air from a refrigeration unit (or sometimes dry ice) into the primary payload area. This system is more suitable for larger shipments and offers tighter security against theft.
- Passive: The passive system involves packaging — usually polyurethane insulation, polystyrene insulation, or vacuum-insulated panels — that keeps the product at a specific temperature for 96 hours or longer. With the ability to maintain more accurate temperatures, the system is not as susceptible to internal freezing as the active system. One drawback to the passive systems is that if the product doesn’t reach the last stop within the required time specified on the packaging, the product will not be usable.
The places where the product’s journey starts and ends greatly impact the shipment because they determine the approximate time the product will be in transit and need to be in the cold chain. More mileage between the sites puts more strain on the systems used to refrigerate the product. Temperature fluctuation or an interruption of the refrigeration system, even for a short period, could jeopardize the shipment.
Transporting the shipment is only one crucial step in the journey. Just as important to the cold chain is where the product will be stored while heading to its final stop. While refrigerated shipping containers can support uninterrupted travel, there can often be a need to rely on cold storage facilities on the route. For instance, the product could have to wait to be shipped overseas at a refrigerated warehouse, or it may need to be stored close to the destination market for distribution.
What is Cold Chain Technology?
Technology is a major part of cold chain management. It affects all aspects of the cold chain — transportation, packaging, storage, and tracking. Various techniques ranging from simple to complex are vital to assuring a shipment stays on the straight, narrow, and temperature-sensitive path. These can range from refrigerated trucks to complex temperature reporting monitors to something as basic as ice packs with blankets.
Overseeing the cold chain process increasingly involves using Internet of Things (IoT) technology to regularly monitor temperature-sensitive products, such as pharmaceuticals, biologics, food, and beverages. With detailed and accurate monitoring, it is easier to tell if anything during the transport or storage stages has caused damage to the quality of the products. Cold chain technology can be helpful in numerous ways as part of the monitoring process. In addition to the tech that makes the monitors a reality, a single technology platform can amass the data and send configurable alerts when temperatures breach acceptable ranges. Using information from the monitors and software, shippers can analyze data to determine what future predictive maintenance is needed.
Types of Technology that are Crucial to the Cold Chain
Technology is a part of nearly every step of the cold chain process from start to finish. So let’s look at what types of technologies keep the cold chain linked together.
The Physical Side
- Monitoring: As mentioned before, monitoring plays a crucial role. In the reefer and at the warehouse, monitors provide a way to ensure you can constantly keep appraised of the temperature and humidity through every stage. This cold chain technology provides an account of the chain’s integrity and helps identify potential weaknesses.
- Fabrication: Without technology, there would be no specialized facilities and specifically designed equipment and methods to create and process many cold chain products.
- Storage: The large refrigerated warehouses that often store cold chain products just before they are made available for final consumption use technology. Tech can also help facilities become more energy efficient while maintaining an accurate range of temperatures.
- Transport: Technology helps keep the transportation part of the cold chain rolling, and they are constantly improving. Refrigerated trucks and containers usually rely on attached refrigeration plants, requiring a power generator.
The Digital Side
Technology can also help with the overall management of the cold chain. On the supply chain and process management side, it can help with supply chain design and optimization, monitoring potential supply chain disruptions, and waste reduction and prevention. When it comes to data management and visibility, digitalization can assist in order and inventory management, supply chain visibility, monitoring alerts, and landed-cost monitoring and analysis.
Technology can also aid stakeholder management, including third-party vendors and carrier partners.
Another technological device used today is the Tive Tag temperature logger. These flexible, paper-thin, label-like devices affix to the product, pallet, or container and record temperature data at user-defined intervals throughout the cold chain journey. Shippers can use the Tive Tag app on their mobile devices to activate them and access recorded data in a cloud-based environment. Shippers can share that information with stakeholders to inform them of temperature excursions.
Polygon geofencing uses technology to create a virtual geographic boundary that accurately displays a destination, allowing a more accurate way to manage shipment deliveries. Besides saving time during deliveries, cloud-based geofencing by Kestrel Insights informs others in the supply chain of the final delivery status with great accuracy. Time is even more crucial in the cold chain process, and polygon geofencing can give you that extra edge.
Choosing the Best Partner in Cold Chain
With cold chain being such an essential process, those you work with must be first-rate. Here’s what to look for when selecting a partner:
- Technology: Technology is a cutting-edge, rapidly changing facet of the supply chain. So it’s important to make sure your potential partner has updated technology to help ensure products stay fresh or frozen. It varies from carrier to carrier, so look for one that meets your needs and demonstrates a willingness to embrace emerging technologies.
- Visibility: It’s crucial to stay informed, and that means having a partner with systems adept at providing real-time checks on not only the temperature of the product but also the shipment’s whereabouts and the expected delivery time.
- Forecasting: Knowing the shipment’s status is the No. 1 concern. But don’t forget to think of the future when choosing a partner. A carrier should have visibility systems and solutions in place to forecast and plan ahead to truly manage the volatile nature of the supply chain.
- All-in-one solution: You also want a partner with plenty of transportation capability options — someone with the resources to easily and efficiently make relatively quick adjustments to suit any shipment alterations.
- A trusted provider: All of the above attributes are of little use if you don’t trust your partner. Communication and approachability are needed on both sides to succeed in a venture with any partner.
What are the Benefits of Using Cold Chain Technology?
The benefits of using cold chain technology are almost as many as the number of products shipped. Here is a quick list of some of the key benefits that can come with this technology:
- It reduces food spoilage, which in turn eliminates food safety risks.
- It helps ensure product integrity, quality, and safety.
- It cuts down on thermal abuse within the cold chain.
- It helps extend the shelf life of the products.
- It removes the tension and finger-pointing between partners.
- It boosts both cold chain efficiency and productivity.
- Profits should rise because there is no need to reimburse for wasted products.
- Fewer wasted products and resources translate into benefits for the environment, too.
Hwy Haul is Ready to Help You Have a Nice Warm Feeling About Cold Chain
This article provides a clearer picture of what cold chain is, how important cold chain technology is to its success, and what to consider when looking for a partner to help you steer through the cold chain process. As a leading digital freight platform, Hwy Haul is ready to be your partner.
Hwy Haul’s next-generation platform connects shippers directly with truckers by eliminating intermediary friction while providing reliable capacity, touchless load booking, real-time visibility, actionable data insights, and dedicated support. With end-to-end digital applications, Hwy Haul is building advanced cold chain compliance to deliver freshness, reduce waste, and create sustainable growth in the produce industry. Get a quote today to see where a future with Hwy Haul can take you.