Improving Cold Chain Operations

A wide range of factors can impact the transport of temperature-controlled goods. Here are 10 tips to help ensure smooth cold chain operations.

1. Know your requirements. Temperature-controlled goods—whether food, vaccines, infectious substances, or other items—all have requirements that impact how they are packaged, stored, and shipped. Consider all your requirements for temperature ranges, packaging, transit time, tracking, and size and weight restrictions.

2. Understand exactly what you’re shipping. Consider the factors that can affect the type of solution needed to keep the entire shipment within the desired temperature range from origin to destination. What are the package dimensions? How much is being packed per package? Is there a single package size or multiple sizes? Knowing this information upfront will help you select optimal cold chain processes and solutions, and avoid problems later on.

3. Clearly define your goals. Do you want to save money on packaging? Reduce shipping costs? Speed fulfillment? Knowing what you’re trying to accomplish—and how you’ll measure success—will help guide the selection of cooling systems, packaging, carriers, and more.

4. Identify your pain points. Do you have trouble keeping seasonal items cold during the summer? Is sourcing or disposing of packaging difficult? What could hold up a shipment in customs? Understanding your current pain points—as well as those that may arise—will help you select solutions that align with your service, financial, and performance goals.

5. Select the right cooling systems. Determine if an active cooling system (e.g., a refrigerated truck) or a passive system (e.g., gel packs or dry ice) is best for your operation. Passive systems may be less expensive, but could be higher risk if there’s a chance of delays while being transported through warm climates, or more labor intensive if they require pre- and post-conditioning.

6. Consider the total cost of ownership. Identify how both hard costs (packaging, freight bills) and soft costs (SKU management, training) contribute to your total cost, and the potential trade-offs in selecting one solution versus another. For example, buying cheaper packaging with less insulation capabilities may require the use of more frozen gel packs, making packages bulkier and heavier and more expensive to ship.

7. Pick easy-to-use monitoring solutions. Companies increasingly use devices to track shipments and monitor time and temperature. Chemical strip indicators are simple to use, inexpensive, and do not employ hazardous materials, such as lithium batteries, which may require additional packaging and labeling.

8. Play by the rules. A wide range of regulations impacts how you pack, store, and ship temperature-controlled goods. Know which rules apply to what you’re shipping and take steps to ensure all stakeholders are properly trained and adhere to these rules.

9. Plan for the unexpected. A lot can go wrong when shipping temperature-controlled goods, so consider all potential supply chain disruptions and associated costs. For example, if there’s a higher risk of a shipment getting held up in customs, you may want to use more expensive packaging that holds temperature longer or select a carrier that will re-ice a shipment if it is delayed.

10. Align with organizational green initiatives. Sustainability continues to be an important component in an organization’s decision-making, so make sure your cold chain operations align with your company’s sustainability goals. This may require finding alternatives to Styrofoam coolers or planning how to optimally return re-useable packaging.

SOURCE: Jay Johnson, Senior Manager of Labelmaster Services, LABELMASTER

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