The pandemic put considerable focus on the supply chain — largely due to the significant, at times costly, disruptions it caused. But behind the scenes, the turmoil of 2020 and 2021 also inspired the innovation needed to meet new expectations, especially when it comes to safely moving temperature-sensitive materials worldwide.
A new market for cold chain logistics is growing quickly. In fact, the industry is projected to reach $647 billion by 2028, up from $242 billion in 2021. However, even with advanced IoT technology and GPS tracking, it’s a challenge to ensure the safe delivery of temperature-sensitive items. So, what is cold chain shipping and what are some of the common challenges in it?
What is cold chain management (and why is it important)?
Cold chain logistics and tech facilitate the transportation of temperature-sensitive items via refrigerated packing methods. This suite of software and hardware prevents spoiling the product by maintaining the right temperature for the goods for the entirety of the transportation.
Many medical-grade supplies require careful temperature control throughout shipping and processing in order to stay viable for use. Pharmaceuticals, vaccines, and lab samples can’t get too warm anywhere along the supply chain, which has historically presented a challenge for logistics teams. Similarly, agricultural products require precise controls in order to stay food safe.
Cold chain management starts when cargo leaves the manufacturer. Logistics teams handle receiving goods from suppliers, storing them, preparing them for shipping, and delivering them to the recipient. The process requires the right type of packaging, route planning, transfer orchestration, and more. If one aspect of the supply chain falls short, an entire shipment may go to waste leading to shortages that could’ve been avoided. By preventing product spoilage, this vital process avoids higher consumer costs, ensures a higher quality product, and allows for a better range of available products in new markets.
Common cold chain management problems
When products and the safety of consumers are on the line, no part of the movement of the goods can be overlooked. Here are some common challenges shippers and receivers face:
Contamination — Freezers are easy targets for pollutants like mold and mildew. When fridges are only a few degrees off, microbial contamination may begin. For this reason, constant monitoring is key to avoiding costly errors.
Temperature control — This is a challenging aspect to control, especially during the loading and unloading of the products. If the transition takes too long, prolonged exposure to the heat or outside air can cause the products to start to deteriorate.
When hardware fails an entire shipment may go to waste. Sensors or freezer doors can also become damaged meaning drivers may not be able to close doors properly or may have to open the doors to check on items, exposing cargo to outside temperatures.
For effective cold chain transfers, it’s vital to maintain consistent temperatures during all phases of the transportation, and prioritize the deliveries by using route optimization for last-mile deliveries.
Packaging — Cold chain packaging is especially important for successful transfers and delivery. When products are incorrectly or inadequately packaged, it can lead to damaged products (and damaged profits).
Broken packaging could mean a loss of the steady temperature or just damage outside of the temperature factor – but, either way, it means the product can start to break down or become unsafe.
Cold chain solutions teams need to have the right equipment and use it properly. This may include active cooling, such as blast freezers and air circulation, or passive cooling like dry ice and gel packs. Sensors and RFID tags can help monitor the state of the product throughout transit.
Delays and unexpected breakdowns — When temperature and timing matter, breakdowns and unexpected delays can lead to wasted time, product, and money. Cold chain logistics is more than just cooling – it requires careful planning and robust infrastructure.
Staying on top of fleet maintenance can have a big impact on avoiding unexpected breakdowns. Power outages, coolant failures, or poor circulation in the truck can all lead to costly losses. For logistics teams, regular fleet inspections and software-based maintenance tracking can make all the difference.
Infrastructure — Even as the cold chain has developed over the years, the infrastructure is still lacking. Trucks still need power and the right voltage to run a cooling system, even if it’s energy efficient.
In many places, there aren’t enough trucks to handle increasing demand, and other times a power plug or appropriate voltage required isn’t available, meaning the truck may be left stranded without a charge.
Cold chain technologies are expected to continue to improve over time as the industry continues to grow. When the temperature is important, your freight forwarding company needs to be prepared for the challenges ahead. An experienced 3PL partner at the port like GlobeCon can make all the difference.
Looking to expand your logistics technology capacity at the Port of Long Beach and Los Angeles? Contact us!