Essential Logistical Process for Cold Chain Operations

Written by Abel Seah Hock Siew, DLSM

by Abel Seah Hock Siew, DLSM

Although globalisation significantly reduces the vastness between various regions worldwide, the physical division of these same regions is still a prominent reality. As the distances between regions widen, the higher the possibility that shipments are susceptible to damages in any complex transport operations.

Damages to goods can range from impacts to undesired temperature fluctuations inclusively, especially for perishables like food produce, their quality will deteriorate overtime due to the sustainability of their chemical reactions is highly dependent on low temperature consistency.

Timely coordination is necessary to efficiently transport a shipment and to prevent any delays that can have undesirable consequences. To safeguard cargoes from sustaining damages throughout a supply chain process, companies from pharmaceutical, medical and food & beverage industries are progressively relying on cold chain.

Importance of Cold Chain Logistics

Cold chain logistics is principally a technological process, which safeguards the transportation and integrity of products and goods that are vulnerable to temperature changes along the supply chain. This process normally involves using thermal, refrigerated packaging methods and strategic logistical planning to effectively execute cold chain operations. Notable transportation mediums are refrigerated trucks, rail cars, cargo ships, reefers and air cargoes inclusively. It is also considered a science as it is greatly reliant on a profound knowledge of the chemical and biological processes associated with perishability.

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Successful cold chain operations consist of these elements:

  • Cooling systems – methods of conveying perishables such as foods to a suitable temperature during all aspects of the supply chain such as processing, storage and transportation.
  • Cold storage – utilising facilities for the storage of commodities over a time frame, pending for shipping to a certain market or intermediate location for processing and distribution.
  • Cold transport – ensuring transportations are available for goods while sustaining constant temperature, optimal humidity levels and preserving integrity.
  • Cold processing and distribution – having the resources to alter and process commodities with good sanitary conditions. Ability to consolidate loads with crates, boxes and pallets for distribution.
Process diagram illustrating the various elements of cold chain. Picture taken from https://transportgeography.org/?page_id=6585

Providing Temperature Controlled Environments

Cold chain operations have recently improved significantly and is able to encompass the requirements of an extensive range of products. Different products have specific maintenance temperature requirements to safeguard their integrity throughout the supply chain. The cold chain industry has provided with the settings of temperature standards to accommodate the bulk of products. Standard temperature settings are “Banana” at 13°C, “Chill” at 2°C, “Frozen” at -18°C and “Deep-Frozen” at -29°C. Maintaining within these temperature settings is essential to the integrity of shipments and to ensure ideal shelf life of perishables.

Cold Chain Shipment Preparation

It is critical to first assess the characteristics of any temperature-sensitive produce prior to transportation. The temperature conditioning and packaging of the cargo must be maintained at the desired temperature. Cold chain devices are principally designed to maintain constant temperature and not to generate a shipment to this temperature. This will prevent the shipment from performing inadequately if it is not conditioned properly in advance. Other concerns are the destinations and weather conditions of the regions for the shipments. For example, if a shipment is vulnerable to extreme heat or cold temperature along the shipping route, using a self-powered reefer will alleviate such concerns.

The loading unit transporting the cargo also requires adequate preparation. An instance would be a refrigerated container is ought to be steam-cleaned to remove the risk of bacterial contamination and maintaining the temperature and humidity conditions specified by the shipper. Next issue is atmospheric control that is sustaining appropriate oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, which aids in delaying the ripening of fruits like bananas. Packaging materials like polyethylene bags, will aid in controlling how gases permeate during the whole transportation.

Banana
Palletised bananas at a Cold Chain Warehouse. Picture taken from https://transportgeography.org/?page_id=6585

The Last Mile

The final stage would be the actual delivery of the shipment to its destination. In logistical term commonly known as the “Last Mile”. Not only the destination is a crucial consideration when arranging a final delivery, the timing of the delivery to ensure the labour and warehousing space is readily available is nonetheless important. Primary transport mediums like lorries and vans, must have the specific requirements necessary to transport the cold chain shipment. Not to mention that many deliveries of cold chain products (e.g. groceries) are happening in urban environments, which can be hindered by traffic congestions. Most important factor would be the final transfer of the cargo to the cold storage facilities, as there are possibilities for damages and violations of integrity to delicate goods such as fruits and vegetables.

AS/RS to Improve Cold Chain Performance

Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS) is an extensively used inventory management system in warehouses, manufacturing facilities and distribution centres throughout various regions worldwide. AS/RS involves machineries that move vertically upwards and downwards, across multiple corresponding storage aisles. Its core functions would be storage and retrieval of products for distribution to in-house and external destinations likewise.

An abundance of advantages can be obtained from AS/RS implementation. Users benefit from enhanced inventory control, tracking and better flexibility to encounter any undesirable business fluctuations. These systems consist of modular sub-systems that can be interchanged with ease to minimise on downtime and increase overall systems’ service life. It also greatly reduces labour costs and enhancing workplace safety by eliminating employees from working in harsh working environments such as cold stores or freezer facilities. Employees’ turnover rate are indirectly reduced from aforementioned measure.

Cold chain supply
AS/RS implementation in a cold storage facility. Picture taken from https://apfoodonline.com/industry/10-ways-asrs-reduces-costs-improves-cold-chain-performance/

Internet of Things (IOT) Cloud Technologies

To effectively foster responsiveness and resilience, companies will need to rely on the right technologies to connect partners and stakeholders via networking. Cloud-powered technologies will assist to enhance businesses in planning and execution, as well as increased confidence in their customers through transparency. In addition, companies will be able to see their entire inventory information and status by leveraging on cloud supply chain technologies.

Implementation of IOT applications in the cold chain allows companiesto effortlessly connect to every stage of their logistics process, gaining considerable cost-saving benefits. The degree of vision provided by IOT technologies allows companies to react sooner on potential issues like climate changes, product damages or even unexpected delays from becoming real disasters. IOT technologies will continue to progress in cold chain operations. Many companies in the involvement of building cold chain technologies are investing on sensor technologies as well, which results in improving their business competitiveness and transport efficiency of goods to consumers.

As technology play an important part in improving the efficiency within an organisation, there are numerous means available to automate the logistics process, which includes the tracking and monitoring of every delivery. By implementing an ERP system will support competence growth and assist the supply chain to increase revenue for the immediate and future. Alongside with a planning system, finding a software that is understandable within an organisation will promote overall coalition and reducing mistakes in the future.

remote cold chain management
Picture illustrating how IOT supports cold chain remotely. Picture taken from https://innovecs.com/blog/iot-solutions-in-cold-chain/

Conclusion

The Cold Chain plays an important and fundamental part of global transportation in modern times. Large corporations and small-medium enterprises will create a higher customer satisfaction and revenue generation by maintaining proper cold chain standards. By employing the latest up-to-date logistical processes and technologies is necessary to compete in the worldwide marketplace of high-quality perishable products. The continuing growth in the standards of living and economic specialisation will remain as key drivers for prospective years in the growing demand for perishable goods and the cold chain logistics to support their transport.


References

Asia Pacific Food Industry. (2018). “10 Ways ASRS Reduces Costs and Improves Cold Chain Performance”. Retrieved from https://apfoodonline.com/industry/10-ways-asrs-reduces-costs-improves-cold-chain-performance/, accessed 11/03/2020.

Joey Yeoh, PDLM. (2017). “The Logistics of Transporting Perishable Goods for Cold Chain Management”. Retrieved from SIPMM: https://sipmm.edu.sg/logistics-transporting-perishable-goods-cold-chain-management/#Perishable_Goods, accessed 14/03/2020.

Jean-Paul Rodrigue. (2020). “The Cold Chain and its Logistics”. Retrieved from https://transportgeography.org/?page_id=6585, accessed 11/03/2020.

Michelle Lee Ean Wei, DLSM. (2018). “Digital Technology for Cold Chain Distribution”. Retrieved from SIPMM: https://sipmm.edu.sg/digital-technology-cold-chain-distribution/#Mobile_Racking, accessed 14/03/2020.

Nuraini Ooi, DPSM. (2019). “New Technologies for Cold Chain Logistics”. Retrieved from SIPMM: https://sipmm.edu.sg/new-technologies-for-cold-chain-logistics/#Mobile_Racking, accessed 12/03/2020.

About the Author Abel Seah has substantial years of experience in regional supply chain planning, specifically in the flavor manufacturing industry. He is a member of the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM). He completed the Diploma in Logistics and Supply Management (DLSM) on March 2020 at SIPMM Institute.

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