June 23, 2020

What is Cold Chain Management?

How did you like that steak you had at the restaurant last weekend? Did your toddler get that measles vaccine? Do you love to wake up to the smell of fresh roses on the bedside table? Meat, vaccines, freshly-cut flowers, and more have one thing in common – they all require refrigerated transport to get to you in unspoiled or usable condition. This is where the concept of cold chain management comes into play. 
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In this blog post, you’re going to learn the basics of the cold chain management process so you can better understand the important role that service providers play in preserving temperature-sensitive foods and meds. 

Understanding cold chain management

As the name says, the cold chain is a logistics management process for products that require the refrigerated temperatures that customers demand. It’s a process since it involves performing a chain of tasks to prepare, store, and transport products along the cold supply chain. Failure to keep cold chain products cold will render them unusable, which leads to a wastage of the products. When cold products go bad, both the shipper and their client lose money. 

A successful cold chain ensures temperature-sensitive products are kept within optimal temperature ranges and maintain the desired states from start to finish. For example, ice cream must be kept frozen to preserve its shelf life. If temperatures go above the sub-zero ranges, the product will lose its solid state and it’ll no longer be considered to be unusable. 

Suppliers of food and pharmaceutical products heavily rely on the cold chain to ensure shipment doesn’t become compromised before they reach the market. They always want to streamline their cold chain management yet that may not be their forte. Fortunately, they can always turn to dedicated shipping companies to ensure timely and efficient delivery of their shipment to consumers.

Outsourcing relieves food and pharmaceutical companies of the need to commit their resources to the management of their temperature-controlled supply chain. It also allows them to focus on the core of their business knowing that they have a reliable partner willing to maintain their cold chain and work around their schedule. 

What are the elements of the cold chain?

Temperature-sensitive products must be kept cold at every link of the cold chain. The chain has many components, including the following:

Storage

Contrary to popular belief, the cold chain doesn’t start when temperature-sensitive products leave a manufacturer’s premises. It starts with the storage of the products at a refrigerated facility. 

If manufacturers of cold chain products don’t have storage equipment needed to keep their products cold, they’ll have to farm out their cold chain operations to a partner who can provide the equipment. 

Many 3PL companies offer warehouse facilities for the storage of cold chain products for some time, whether at an intermediary location for easy distribution to the local market or awaiting shipping to a distant market.

Some common types of cold storage equipment and facilities include refrigerated containers, cold rooms, chillers, cold boxes, blast freezers, and vaccine carriers. 

Packaging

For temperature-controlled products to maintain their quality during shipment, they have to be packaged correctly. Proper packaging helps minimise the risk of product contamination but also ensure energy-efficient storage of products along the cold chain. 

Monitoring

Suppliers of cold chain products may need to keep track of specific types of information about their shipment, depending on the type of products they manufacture. This information includes temperature ranges and other environmental parameters, such as humidity levels that can compromise the integrity of temperature-sensitive cargo. Armed with this information, shippers can audit their supply chain processes to detect environments and activities that lead to inefficiencies. 

Data logging is one of the technologies that can be used to make the management of the cold chain supply a lot easier. This technology helps ensure efficient cold chain monitoring of temperature-sensitive goods. It also helps with quality assurance since any quality issues can be addressed before it’s too late.

Data loggers can be wireless, standalone, web-based, or computer-based. Each option has unique features, pros, and cons that must be carefully reviewed before making a final decision. Consulting a service provider can help shippers identify the best data logging technology for their cold chain supply needs.

Transport

Cold transport involves the deployment of different transport solutions to move temperature-sensitive products from the point of storage to the consumer market. 

Cold chain products can be transported by road, rail, air, and/or sea. 

Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

A variety of specialised transport vehicles and equipment, such as refrigerator vans, refrigerator trucks, and reefer containers are used to transport and keep shipment cold.

Customs clearance

From a geographical viewpoint, the cold chain can be local, regional, or global. The cold chain is local when the point of harvest or production is close to the point of consumption. It’s regional when the point of production and point of use are in different regions of the same country. The cold chain turns global when products have to be moved overseas to reach consumers on the other side of the pond. 

In the case of global cold chain supply, suppliers of temperature-sensitive products may need to clear with customs before they can be allowed to deliver shipment to foreign jurisdictions. 

A specialised cold chain service provider can handle customs paperwork to reduce shipping delays that may arise from failure to meet all the relevant international shipping requirements.

Product handling

The cold chain involves moving of temperature-controlled products along different points of the chain. This requires the use of material-handling equipment, such as shipping crates, boxes, and pallets, as well as conveyor belt systems.

Without such equipment, shippers would take a lot of time to complete the delivery of cold chain products. This would make it difficult for them to make the fast deliveries needed to avoid loss of shipment.

Delivery

Cold chain management may also involve the delivery of shipment according to the end-user consumers’ preferred methods for receiving cold deliveries. 

What are the top trends in cold chain management?

The cold chain supply sector is constantly evolving to keep up with the needs of shippers and consumers. When people change their consumption patterns, suppliers of cold chain products have no choice but to adapt to meet the changing needs. Cold chain management operations must be adapted to these changes as well. 

Some major trends in cold chain management industry include the following:

Less than truckload (LTL) transportation 

In a world where manufacturers of cold chain goods are always looking for ways to manage operating costs, LTL transport service is a welcome relief.

With this new transport solution, companies that sell food and pharma products no longer have to pay for an entire trailer or full truck to deliver their shipment to the consumer market. All they need to do is to pay for the amount of space they use.

Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan on Unsplash

To benefit from LTL shipping, businesses that supply cold chain products should ensure their shipment is well-prepped for storage and transport so that carriers don’t have to spend their resources handling incorrectly packaged cargo. They may also need to invest in transport management systems since many LTL shippers are slow technology adopters.

GPS technology

Businesses that deal in cold chain products want to keep tabs on the status of their shipment. They want to know that everything is going on as planned and that the shipment will reach its destination on time.

Even with refrigeration systems in place, temperature-sensitive products don’t last forever. Hence, delays in the delivery of certain food and pharmaceutical products can lead to huge losses.

Shipping companies heavily rely on GPS technology to keep track of their clients’ cargo in real-time. This way, they can keep clients informed about the progress of their shipment. 

Last mile delivery

Many consumers are willing to pay extra for the convenience of getting their orders delivered at their doorstep instead of having to walk into local stores to get the products they want. Freight companies are adapting to this need by offering last mile delivery as an added service.

In the context of supply chain management, the term “last mile” is used to refer to the final step of a product’s journey from the warehouse shelf to the consumer’s doorstep. 

Photo by Ciel Cheng on Unsplash

It’s the process through which cold chain products are delivered to end-user consumers directly, eliminating the need for retail intermediaries.

Importance of maintaining the cold chain correctly

The result of failing to maintain optimal temperatures at every step of the cold chain, even for short periods may lead to many undesirable outcomes. These include the following:

Product degradation

When cold chain shipment isn’t kept cold at every link of the chain, the quality of the shipment may be compromised, resulting in useless products. This may be tremendously detrimental in the case of shipping vaccines, pharma products, and essential food items. 

Waste of suppliers’ money

When cold chain cargo goes bad because of failure to provide the consistent temperatures required for their preservation, shipment owners lose money. The extent of financial losses may depend on a range of factors including the type and quantity of products involved. 

The financial impact of losses from a full-truck of shipment is greater than a smaller LTL freight, for example. In a similar vein, high-value refrigerated products will lead to greater losses than cheaper products of the same truckload. 

Deterioration of business partnerships

When shippers suffer heavy losses because of mistakes committed by their shipping partners, they’re bound to take legal action against them. They may also cut ties with their partners.

This may result in legal battles that take time to resolve but also waste precious time and financial resources. 

End-user consumer discontent 

When cold chain products don’t reach the consumer market due to quality issues, consumers at the end of the supply chain are bound to become disgruntled. 

Empty shelves are no fun!

Why a quality cold chain management is essential for vaccine supply

The ramifications of failing to maintain optimal temperatures for the medical supply chain supersede any business interests that shippers may have. That’s why it’s important to review the cold chain for medical supplies such as vaccines separately. 

Failure to monitor vaccine temperatures properly may cause:

Loss of potency – the formula will degrade and will need to be disposed of. Potency can’t be restored once it is lost.

Waste of money – the manufacture and supply of vaccines involves a significant investment in research, product development, and distribution systems. 

Create a need to re-immunize patients – vaccines are essential to keep people healthy. When they become defective and unsafe, they’ll need to be re-manufactured to protect the population. 

Parties involved in the handling and distribution of vaccines must make sure the cold chain is correctly maintained to avoid the above risks. Every child matters – an effective cold chain helps deliver life-saving vaccines to every child in the world.

The importance of trained personnel in cold chain logistics

When talking about cold chain management, it’s easy to discuss processes, technologies, and equipment and overlook the important role that human resource plays in ensuring efficient movement of products along the cold chain.

For cold chain logistics to be successful, qualified staff must be used at every step of the process, including storage, packaging, condition monitoring, and transport. 

Final word: Specialization is key to ensure efficient cold chain management 

Not all temperature-sensitive products are created equal. Every product is unique and requires specialised handling to maintain its integrity along the cold chain. There are several regulations and guidelines that industry regulators set for shipping companies to follow throughout the cold chain supply. Beyond these guidelines, individual shippers must have in-house quality standards. The need to understand industry, local, regional, global, and environmental regulations, as well as estimate the duration of freight accurately, is making many manufacturers of temperature-sensitive products to outsource their cold chain supply to specialised shipping companies that can handle all their freight needs.

Need help monitoring the condition of your freight along the cold chain? Contact us to find out the solution we have for your situation and needs.