Cold chains often deal with sensitive products like pharmaceuticals and medical products. This is why a minor error can lead to product degradation and significant financial loss. Exposure to temperatures that fall outside the allowable ranges can render a batch of products obsolete. Managing the risks and challenges in cold chains is already hard, but, it is vital to have an efficient and effective cold chain management system that can handle the cold chain’s requirements.
Cold chain management is to maintain a temperature-controlled environment throughout the process. Ensuring that every link in the chain complies with the specific temperature requirements. It is important to remember that a cold chain is about temperature regulation.
Aside from socio-political factors, the cold chain has its specialized problems. These problems can cause changes in shipping patterns and logistics strategies. Unfortunately, cold chain risk management is expensive but it is a necessary procedure to avoid untoward loss. Aside from product loss, cold chain failure can also cost human lives. Therefore, it is important to mitigate risks as much as possible. Shipping consignments over long distances is a collective effort. Every link needs to function well to ensure efficient operations at all times.
Typical Cold Chain Problems
Extreme weather conditions also cause damages to containers that are not sturdy to withstand weather changes. It is important to be mindful of the weather when making arrangements for cold chain transport and delivery.
The following tangible environmental factors can also affect the cold chain flow:
- Environmental policy
- Macroeconomic fluctuations
- Global and local factors practices, technology, or contingencies
There are various laws in different countries, regions, and states that govern cold chain practices. This difference can lead to freight seizures and miscommunications.
Despite advanced and reliable solutions in cold chain technology, still, they are not accessible to stakeholders due to their expensive cost. The chosen transport provider would then follow the minimum requirements that are enough to sustain the cold chain. This means there is a higher risk for technology or equipment failure to occur. Weak equipment can also pass the burden to the cold chain staff due to the amount of human effort needed to compensate.
It is important that containers and trucks that allow proper airflow and ventilation in the cold chain. Passive containers should be loaded in a specific way to accommodate insulated panels and bricks composed of Phase Change Material (PCM).
Human errors and security risks
Even if the cold chain is well-equipped with advanced packaging, transport, or handling technology, it might still fail. Simply because of the under-trained personnel to handle the cold chain. Cold chain risks and challenges management and training of human resources are essential to ensure a self-sustaining cold chain system. Lack of communication and demotivation can affect personnel’s performance. Inadequate training to the established procedures can spell trouble for cold chain operations.
Some of the reasons for common human errors include;
- Bad handling:
Perishable items are often moved in and out of temperature-controlled zones during the cold chain process. However, these points of transfer are delicate and susceptible to mishandling.
A slight temperature deviation can cause irreversible damage and lessen the shelf life and integrity of the products.
- Inadequate training:
Without proper training, staff can commit small but significant mistakes that can easily be avoidable. The whole shipment could freeze if a staff turned off the air-conditioner while passing through cold conditions.
Training problems are often encountered when contract staff is hired, or third parties are involved in the cold chain process.
- Non-conformity to established procedures:
The staff must know how to function despite the absence of management. Luckily, there are cold chain visibility solutions that make tracking easier. These provide reliable methods to ensure the handling instructions are followed by cold chain staff.
If coolant sources are not available, goods can get contaminated during transport. The necessary coolants must be prepared to reduce the risk of cold chain failure.
The high demand for pharmaceutical drugs is often a high-value target for cargo theft. Not having security measures could compromise drugs in the supply chain, which can endanger human lives. It can also affect a cold chain’s audibility and integrity.
The distribution process is composed of transport and storage. Cold chain storage is often more manageable compared to temperature regulation in transportation. Packaging can be mishandled and damaged during transport. Equipment in the mobile cold chain in transport vehicles can also experience breakdowns and failure. This can occur in cooling solutions used in active cold chains brought by improper maintenance or power loss. There are some instances where power sources are not standardized in global cold chains. Due to the changes in the power outlet, a period where a trailer loses power can occur. During the power outage, refrigeration systems will fail, and the temperatures will increase.
A vehicle breakdown can also lead to destroyed products since time is crucial in delivering perishable items. If equipment breaks down, the stakeholders must have the expertise to remedy the malfunction. Interventions should ensure that the items are still timely delivered, maintaining product integrity.
Active containers’ mechanical parts tend to fail. While passive boxes often do not have mechanical parts, and most of the time, do not encounter failure.
Cold Chain Technologies for Logging and Monitoring
Temperature loggers are small circuit boards that can be found inside shipping containers. They contain an EEPROM memory that has the ability to be reprogrammed and erased. This memory records the temperature for the entire duration of transportation. At the dock, the staff reviews the device for any temperature excursion that occurred during the transport.
There are three parts to a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system; tags, antennas, and readers. Passive tags are often used in cold chains since they are smaller, cheaper, and portable. These tags are powered by RFID readers’ energy to transmit data since it does not have its own power supply.
RFID antennas integrated with RFID readers provide energy for the tags and transmit the tags’ data to the readers. The data can be read through the RFID readers since it signals from the tags and transforms them into digital information. The digital data is then sent to the cloud for processing.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) uses a network of sensors attached to packages, shelves, and vehicles that help stakeholders track the environmental conditions where the products are stored. The cloud platform of the IIoT shows the storage and analytics of the gathered RFID and sensor data. The IIoT processes the algorithms in the dashboards, reports, and real-time location maps. IIoT systems are also connected with web and mobile applications, which allow easier communication with users. It alerts the staff in case the temperature inside a warehouse nears a critical threshold.
To deal with cold chain risk, it is important to plan by preparing contingency plans. Ensuring that a strong cold chain risks and challenges management strategy is in order. Aside from that, the necessary technologies and processes need to be present as well.
To mitigate risks is to have a real-time cold chain monitoring system. This should enable stakeholders to oversee the current status of temperature-controlled shipments. Monitoring it inside the warehouse as well as those that are in transit. It can analyze patterns and foresee possible issues that can occur in the future. Preventive measures can be immediately enacted as well through a control tower. Thus, having a monitoring system in place will secure any financial risks to occur in a cold chain.