Most people understand the concept of supply chain logistics. It is the process of getting a product from raw materials into the consumer’s hands. The supply chain is all the steps in between these two states. It includes processing, manufacturing, transporting, storing, and more. The cold chain is simply a temperature-controlled supply chain. So, there are many Innovations That Have Improved Cold Chain Logistics.
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Companies use cold or temperature-controlled supply chains when the products or materials in that supply chain need to be kept at a certain temperature for reasons including freshness, health, safety, or effectiveness of the product. The cold chain is most often used to move food, pharmaceuticals, or volatile chemicals through a supply chain.
The cold chain has been around since the first refrigerated trucks were invented over 80 years ago. It has come a long way since then, increasing our knowledge of how and why we need to keep certain products cold, and providing technological advancements enabling more efficient protection of cold chains. And these advancements keep coming. Here are some of the recent innovations that have helped improve cold chain technology.
Innovations That Have Improved Cold Chain Logistics
Early in the history of the cold chain, you would pack up a shipment at Point A and send it to Point B, not entirely certain of the fate of that shipment until you could check on it at its next destination. And, you might not have known if the needed temperature was maintained throughout the shipping process. As the cold chain developed, we did a better job tracking entire shipments but not necessarily at maintaining temperatures. What if the packages on the bottom warmed up while the packages on the top stayed cold? Or if packages in the back stayed cooler than the ones by the door?
Now, we have package-level monitoring in the cold chain which allows us to know exactly where products are at all times and to have answers to questions like the ones above. GPS-enabled and even data logging sensors can now be affixed to each package. These internet-connected IoT devices allow supply chain managers to monitor the location and temperature of each package throughout its cold chain journey.
The cold chain is all about the quality, safety, and integrity of products, and being able to monitor shipments on a package level allows companies to better ensure that their products are meeting these standards. This also helps prevent theft, understand product loss, and remove the tainted product from the supply chain before it gets to the public, potentially requiring recalls and trouble with regulators for unsafe conditions.
In the cold chain, by definition, you are moving products from one temperature-controlled space to another. Sure, you may be able to pull a refrigerated truck right into your refrigerated manufacturing space. But what about when you are moving product from a temperature-controlled freight plane to a refrigerated warehouse? Chances are, you are not able to pull the plane right into the warehouse. This means you have to use some type of wheeled transportation to move the products where they need to go. Having these products out in the open isn’t a problem in most cases. However, what happens if you are transporting the product in -5° F cold in Minnesota or 130° F heat in Southern California? That could be a problem.
Enter cold dolly technology. These refrigerated, dolly-style transporters are allowing places like airports to offer an unbroken cold chain. These dollies are also known as Unit Load Devices (ULDs) and can be rolled right into refrigerated units on freight planes and taken to temperature-controlled warehouses so that products in the cold chain never face unregulated temperatures. The cargo travels in its very own refrigerated warehouse from beginning to end.
This technology is increasingly prevalent in places with extreme temperatures that pharmaceuticals are commonly transported through. One of the most recent examples is at the Hyderabad Airport in India. An airport spokesperson told the Economic Times, “With more than 70% of cargo being pharma, our Cool Dolly has enhanced the airport’s capabilities multi-fold in our efforts to provide customers safe handling of the essential cargo such as pharmaceuticals, vaccines, fruits, vegetables, and other perishables.”
Remote Monitoring Systems
One more technological innovation that has revolutionized cold chain logistics is remote monitoring systems. Companies no longer have to rely on workers physically checking on-site thermometers or thermostats to monitor conditions throughout the cold chain. Nowadays, IoT-enabled sensors known as data loggers monitor, record, and transmit environmental data such as temperature, humidity, pressure, and more to remote monitoring software. Companies like Dickson offer continuous cloud-based remote monitoring systems using wireless data loggers that are highly useful in cold chain applications.
This remote monitoring technology fundamentally changes how the cold chain is overseen. It allows quality assurance managers to manage an entire network from a centralized location. This reduces the cost, manpower, and onsite human error that came with the old ways of monitoring conditions in the cold chain. When the same person or team can monitor conditions, and respond to issues over the course of the entire cycle, it is a much more efficient form of oversite.
Like package-level monitoring and cold dollies, remote monitoring systems help a company’s cold chain operate more efficiently and allows them to deliver fresher, safer, or more effective products to their consumer while also avoiding many of the pitfalls that can come when the integrity of the cold chain is not maintained. Remote monitoring systems can even go a step further and alert QA managers when cold chain standards are not being met. This allows managers to make the appropriate adjustments when needed to avoid major problems.
The cold chain has come a long way since 1938, and the pace of innovation in just the last decade has exploded. As companies see how much innovation improves the cold chain, it stands to reason that even more innovation will be on its way. These advancements will continue to help companies and consumers.