Getting goods from point A to point B seems simple enough in today’s world. However, what do you suppose is needed when those goods need to stay refrigerated for the entire length of the journey? What if that journey needs to go halfway around the world?
Welcome to the World of Cold Chain Management
Simply put, cold chain management means having a supply chain that is climate controlled from beginning to end. From manufacturing to recipient, the product needs to be contained in an environment that experiences none to very small temperature variations.
Examples of products moving through a cold chain range from the obvious like food to specific medical supply items like blood and vaccines. Certain industrial chemicals and gases also need to be contained in a cold chain. Liquid nitrogen is a common example.
The Logistics of a Cold Chain
Throughout history, keeping products cold throughout their journey was always a challenge. Thanks to modern refrigeration technology most challenges have been surmounted. This had led to the ability for cold chain management to stretch around the globe. In the past, the cold chain lasted as far as the ice keeping the product cold could last. Now refrigerated trucks, planes and ships can get any product where it needs to go and still maintain climate integrity.
When maintaining a cold chain, several factors must be considered to ensure no breakdowns or hazardous interruptions in the chain. These include, but are not limited to:
- Temperature observation: Due to the sensitivity of some products (vaccines, organ transplants, etc.) any variation in temperatures must be recorded. Since even the best refrigeration unit can have variations this is a critical element
- Transportation: This goes beyond a simple matter of picking a refrigerated vehicle and loading it up for its journey. One needs to consider the reliability of the provider; along with what contingencies they have available in case there is a breakdown.
- Planned travel route: The simplest path may lead to the highest variations in external temperatures, which will cause internal cold temperatures to fluctuate as the refrigeration technology tries to adjust.
- Backup plans: Planning for contingencies in the case of cold chain breakdowns can mean the difference between success and disaster. Making sure the transport provider can replace a disabled vehicle or a storage warehouse has a backup refrigeration unit ensures the cold chain remains intact.
Cold Chain Challenges
As can be seen by the logistics, cold chain management must take into account a lot of different variables that can make it difficult to control. Any failures in the chain can have serious repercussions for all involved. While nobody wants melted ice cream arriving in their store, the negative consequences of receiving a spoiled vaccine shipment can be immense. This is why every step should be taken to ensure the stability of the cold chain. Reliability takes on an even more serious challenge because, like all supply chains, it is only as strong as its weakest link.
The Rewards of Cold Chain Management
The advent of cold chain management provides for some amazing benefits for industry and humanitarian organizations. Products requiring environmental control can now be delivered to most parts of the world, including developing areas, thanks to ever improving refrigeration technology. Humanitarian groups can now deliver vaccines and medicines to areas that were once unreachable with standard supply chain methods.
Cold chain management has become a vital part in the ever expanding nature of global supply networks. The profits, both financial and humanitarian, are worth the various challenges that the process produces.