The cost of a cold chain failure can be extensive. Massive product losses inevitably cut into a company’s bottom line and waste valuable resources. And that isn’t the only cost of a breach in the cold chain. In some cases, a cold chain issue has the potential to affect public health, as when sensitive vaccines are made ineffective due to improper handling. To prevent issues like these, it’s crucial to understand the most common causes of cold chain failure and the precautions you can take to avoid them. Cold chain logistics technology can be a solution to many of these issues. Tracking products using Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) and leveraging automation to reduce human error and improve efficiency can help to minimize the risk of losses due to a break in the cold chain.
Six Reasons Cold Chains Fail
When the cold chain is broken, products are lost. At this point, all supply chain managers can do is determine the cause of the failure to keep it from occurring again. In most cases, a cold chain failure will fall into one of the following common categories:
- Loading products before cooldown: A high initial product temperature can generate an extra heat load that raises the temperature in the back of a truck. Consider a truck loaded with baked goods right off the production line. Those items loaded together in quantity can increase the total temperature in the truck and can also create steam that has no place to escape. Moisture and heat are a recipe for mold, particularly if your supply chain uses wood shipping pallets that are difficult to clean and prone to mold and mildew.
- Loading or unloading in hot weather: Cold products can heat up quickly as they’re transferred from the bay to the back of the truck, or vice versa. On a particularly hot day, these heat fluctuations can damage products. Even if there isn’t immediate damage, the movement of products between zones with drastically different temperatures can cause moisture to condense on pallets and packages. This moisture can damage products as well as spur the growth of bacteria.
- Poor loading patterns/airflow management: The cold air in a refrigerated truck isn’t going to do much for products if it can’t reach them. Pallets should not be packed so tightly that there is no space for airflow between them. In addition, leaving pallets too close to warehouse or truck doorways can cause them to be repeatedly exposed to warm air, resulting in spoilage.
- Excessive product handling: The more frequently products are moved, the higher the risk that they will be exposed to unsafe temperatures. This is why it’s crucial to design routes that minimize the number of different environments that products must go through prior to reaching their destination.
- Container damage: Damage within a storage space, such as water-damaged insulation and broken temperature gauges, can cause product damage that may go unnoticed until the product is taken out of the packaging. In addition, power failures at facilities with inefficient or nonexistent backup generators have resulted in massive product losses for companies as entire storage warehouses of products spoiled.
- Human error: Poor training and a lack of understanding of the importance of cold chain procedures can cause major failings through human error that sometimes cost millions. An employee leaving a pallet of heat-sensitive medication on the loading dock for a few minutes too long, for example, could ruin that entire pallet load of product. Without strict processes and protocols for the handling of cold chain products, human error will result in waste.
Minimizing risk in the cold chain means making use of cold chain logistics technology.
There is a lot of room for mistakes in the cold chain as every step, trip leg, and movement of products presents a new opportunity for error. Minimizing this risk means making use of cold chain logistics technology that makes it easier for supply managers to track, control, and safely handle products.
Automated Cold Chain Logistics Technology Can Minimize Failures
Automation is the single best solution to limiting many of the issues that cause cold chain failure. Temperatures within the warehouse can be set to adjust automatically based on the outside temperature. Meanwhile, backup electrical sources should kick on instantly when the power goes out. All of these systems should be held together by a Warehouse Management System (WMS) that sends automated alerts to stakeholders.
Improved alerts help managers better control the environments of their products. If the temperature of an environment where products are stored or moved changes, a supply chain manager can receive an automatic alert informing them of what is happening and how it is impacting products. The same is true of a power failure. By automating cold chain monitoring, managers can reduce failures as they no longer need to rely as heavily on employees to monitor temperatures and resolve issues.
RFID chips reduce the time spent handling each load, helping to maintain cold chain integrity.
To ensure that automated systems fulfill their potential, supply chain managers should consider using plastic pallets in conjunction with RFID tracking. Automated equipment, such as Automated Guidance Vehicles (AGVs), stacker cranes, and robotic palletizers, is sensitive and specifically calibrated to work with pallets of a particular weight, size, and shape. Plastic pallets have a consistent weight and dimensions that never vary with age or exposure to moisture as wood pallets’ dimensions can. Meanwhile, RFID chips—which can be easily embedded into plastic pallets—ensure that pallet loads can be located quickly and scanned into or out of the system using handheld scanners. This reduces the time spent handling each load, helping to maintain cold chain integrity.
The best cold chain logistics technology leverages automation to eliminate many of the common issues that lead to cold chain failures. Plastic pallets outfitted with RFID tags support these automated systems by ensuring pallets play well with automation and are easy to move and identify. This allows supply chain managers to eliminate the unpredictability that leads to cold chain failure, improving efficiency, reducing waste, and, ultimately, lowering their Total Cost of Business (TCOB).
iGPS plastic pallets support cold chain logistics technology and include RFID tags to make tracking individual pallets easy. To learn more about how our plastic pallet pooling service can make your cold chain more efficient, contact us at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.