The cold chain is different from other types of supply chains because failure almost always results in the loss of products. If a nonperishable item–a package of toothbrushes, for example–is unintentionally left in a hot warehouse too long, the product will be salvageable. The same can’t be said for a crate of fruit or pallet of vaccines, which high temperatures will make unusable in short order. Each of the stages of cold chain management requires detailed scrutiny in order to ensure that the cold chain as a whole is effective and profitable.
Increasing Efficiency in Each Stage of Cold Chain Management
The stages of cold chain management–planning, producing, monitoring and transporting–don’t differ significantly from those of other supply chains. In the cold chain, however, the logistical focus of each stage is temperature control and monitoring. Tools and new technology can be used to improve the efficiency of temperature control, tracking, and record-keeping.
The use of automated equipment is widely held to be a cold chain best practice as it can help to reduce the risk of human error.
- Establish a temperature control plan: The acceptable temperature range for a given product should be properly communicated to all involved parties. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and Universal Product Code (UPC) labels can help managers track products and monitor the timing of their travel and handling based on when pallets were scanned. This information can be placed into a cloud-based supply chain management (SCM) system so that the information can be accessed at any time by stakeholders.
- Leverage automated production: The use of automated equipment is widely held to be a cold chain best practice as it can help to reduce the risk of human error that can lead to waste during production and storage. Equipment like the automated cooling tanks used in milk production can monitor a product while adjusting the temperature as needed to account for variables. This reduces the risk of human error in the process which could easily lead to cold chain failure and product loss.
- Carefully monitor storage: Refrigerated storage must be continuously monitored to ensure the temperature stays consistent. It’s also important to carefully log expiration dates so products reach the customer when they’re still usable. This is an area where a Warehouse Management System (WMS) is invaluable. Product information can be logged using pallet-based RFID tags to make it easy to check the information associated with a batch of products from any location.
- Use 3PL to maximize transport efficiency: Refrigerated transportation can be costly, which is why many managers take advantage of third-party logistics (3PL). 3PL companies are often able to maximize transportation efficiency by grouping several different products onto the same truck, aggregating refrigerated orders for delivery to one retailer.
When unbroken, the cold chain safeguards products until they reach consumers. However, ensuring a safe, continuous cold chain can be particularly challenging without the ability to track the product through every stage of cold chain management.
How Plastic Pallets Support Cold Chain Management
While wood might be the typical pallet material in most supply chains, it’s not the best material for use in cold chains. Instead, plastic pallets offer advantages in tracking, hygiene, automation-friendliness, and many other areas.
High-quality plastic pallets can be designed with embedded RFID chips and UPC labels to ensure easy tracking.
- Durability: Plastic pallets are not porous like wood, and as a result, the condensation that collects on a pallet when it is moved in and out of temperature-controlled environments won’t sink deep into the material and damage it over time or contribute to mold and mildew growth.
- Reduced contamination risk: When something spills on a plastic pallet, it stays on the surface and can easily be rinsed away with a quick pressure wash. The same can’t be said for wood pallets, as they tend to absorb liquids, including chemical, drug, and food spills. This tendency to hold moisture also encourages bacterial growth, and as a result, wood pallets pose a contamination hazard which can lead to product damage and, ultimately, retailer rejection.
- Easier tracking: High-quality plastic pallets can be designed with embedded RFID chips and UPC labels to ensure easy tracking. Wood pallets aren’t often RFID-enabled since their flimsiness makes it highly probable that an associated RFID chip–or the board to which it is attached–will be lost somewhere in the supply chain.
- Uniform dimensions: Automated supply chain equipment such as palletizers and stacker cranes are more reliable when used in conjunction with pallets of stable, uniform weight and dimensions such as plastic pallets. The size, shape, and weight of a wood pallet, meanwhile, can fluctuate significantly based on design, age, moisture, type of wood used, and other factors, making it challenging to accurately calibrate equipment.
Plastic pallets are preferable to wood pallets in all stages of cold chain management, from production to delivery. They minimize risks related to contamination and are ideally suited for the highly regulated perishable grocery and pharmaceutical industries. Any supply chain manager who is concerned about the integrity of their cold chain management should consider making the switch to plastic pallets.
iGPS rents plastic pallets that protect products through all the stages of the cold chain to ensure they reach their final destination in prime condition. For more details on our pallet pooling program, contact us at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.