Challenges for Successful and Cost-Efficient Cold Chain Management

By Anjali Jain, Owner, Technocrat Project Consultancy Firm, Gurgaon (Haryana)
Anjali Jain

Implementing a cold chain strategy for a new market or climate zone or geographical location can have many challenges, such as adapting a cold chain to handle the varied range of horticultural produce grown in the region, to meet the new regulations, geographical distances, rail or road infrastructure matrix and varying validation processes.

In some cases, just identifying the significant risks as you move from the supply chain to the transit chain of temperature sensitive products, can be the most challenging event. 

The increasing demand for daily products, fresh fruit and vegetables in developing and developed economies is going to drive a significant growth in the cold chain logistics markets. The refrigerated storage and transport part of the global cold chain market is expected to reach a value of US $ 233,476 Million by 2019, at a CAGR of 15.6% from 2014 to 2019.

With this demand for better visibility of products in the logistics network, to minimize wastage, and to ensure product integrity, the technology that enables better monitoring and analytics will play a major part in cold chain logistics network.

Technology

Technology becomes critical in enhancing and assuring product integrity. To meet these requirements, both in food and pharmaceuticals, there is an increased investment in cost effective cold chain infrastructure and technologies. The geographical climate is not just an external challenge for cold chain, the internal distribution channels can also be greatly affected.

For a large country like India, with multiple temperatures, climate range, wide variety of fruit /vegetable crops grown and fragmented road influx, a multi-produce, region or terrain specific, inland cold chain distribution is easy to handle and more cost-effective, instead of using central distribution system. There is an emergence of reefer warehouses and reefer transport vehicles equipped with temperature-humidity recorders, event-logging and electronic monitoring system to enhance the effectiveness of supply chain.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

LCA takes into account the entire life cycle of a product, from the harvesting end, handling and processing of raw materials, through manufacturing, packaging and distribution, to final use and waste disposal, or recycling.

This allows us to better understand the link between the consumption of resources, energy use, waste,  environmental challenges and climate change. LCA is an important tool to reduce the environmental impact of the product and make better environmental friendly choices.

Minimizing packaging waste

One of the most important elements of LCA is looking at how much waste a packaging system generates, and whether its component parts can be disposed of responsibly.  Preventing packaging waste at the source or eliminating waste before it is created is the most effective way to minimize the cost add-on of temperature controlled shipping and distribution of perishable foods and pharmaceutical formulations.

To produce a packaging system that meets the product- protection criteria and has minimal impact on the environment, a careful balance must be achieved, using the right materials and right design. The packaging can be optimized by reducing its weight and size. In addition to requiring less materials and energy to manufacture, smaller systems enable more packages to be stored and shipped, reducing the energy needed for transportation and cutting shipping costs. This can be achieved by selecting the most thermally efficient materials such as Neopor EPS and vacuum insulation panels.

It is worth noting that optimizing the loading and transportation of packages significantly reduces the environmental impact. For example, large fully loaded packages have less impact per unit of the product shipped than smaller part-filled packages.  

Minimizing the environmental impact of cold chain shipping is increasingly important to companies transporting temperature sensitive foods and pharmaceutical formulations. Balancing the eco-credentials of a packaging system with its ability to protect its contents reliably and cost-effectively can be difficult. By specifying the most efficient packaging solution available, one can reduce waste, improve the business sustainability, and lower the operating and shipping costs.

Validation

Validating a whole cold chain is a very complex task. The integrity of the temperature monitoring data is often an issue as equipment is not always suitable for the purpose that it is used. It is crucial that manufacturers study the validation process very carefully, to ensure that meets their specific requirements. The manufacturing companies need to take a global perspective to cold chain, or undoubtedly they will have cost efficiency issues.

Towards the end, I can say that implementing a cost-effective and validated cold chain is a ‘big challenge’ as it involves synchronization of various variables, which change dramatically depending on which path you take.  

                          So done correctly, it becomes cost-efficient !

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