Cold chain systems are vital for supplying healthcare and food & beverage products. Looking at the growing expanse of these two critical sectors, the demand for cold chain transportation solutions such as refrigerated containers and vehicles to safely transport temperature-sensitive goods is expected to drive the transportation segment’s growth in the future. A recent Grand View research estimated the global cold chain market size at US$ 233.2 billion in 2022, which is expected to grow at a CAGR of 18.6% from 2023 to 2030. In order to achieve this growth projection, several challenges need to be ironed out. Through this article, Sanjay Desai, Co-founder & Regional Director, Humana International (S) Pte Ltd., offers key elements that companies need to consider while developing an efficient and effective cold chain distribution network…
A cold chain is a temperature-controlled supply chain where all links and events in the end-to-end logistics management systemmust remain unbroken to maintain product efficacy and its quality. In order for the cold chain to remain unbroken, the storage temperature must remain controlled from production to packaging while in-transportation to storage until distributed to a department store, a pharmacist or given as treatment to a patient/consumer.
Traditionally, facilities used manual methods to keep an ongoing record of temperatures whereby a designated staff would record the temperature at a set time each day. These days, data loggers are available that continuously read the temperature from the probes in the refrigerators to store the readings. Users can view the data from an IT device at any time.
Currently, the demand for cold chain products & an intelligent supply chain infrastructureis rising consistently, creating major supply chain challenges not just to run the infrastructure but to maintain the ecological and environmental balance like climate change, energy consumption / greenhouse gas emissions. Reason for such incremental volume growth in Cold Chain products across global regions are: Increasing demand for vaccines; Increasing consumption in processed food and the need for its preservation; and Huge penetration of e-commerce in food and beverage industry especially in growing markets (Asia).
HIGH GROWTH IN THE FUTURE
Besides the usual demand for temperature sensitive products, there will be huge demand for residential and commercial air conditioning to rise significantly over the next 7-8 years. This is largely due to economic / structural growth associated in emerging markets all over the regions. For example, residential AC (Airconditioning) alone accounts for two-thirds of the installed capacity of cooling infrastructure, making it a significant contributor to global emissions.
Secondly, demand for perishable food, vaccines, and other biopharmaceutical products is growing rapidly, requiring expansion in infrastructure (Warehousing /Transportation) for temperature-controlled supply chains and supply chain innovation across the globe.
Thirdly, various sectors like Automotive, Aviation, Energy and Technology, which are on growth trajectory, will continue to consume more energy, generate more carbon emissions, and contribute negatively to global warming.
CHALLENGES ASSOCIATED WITH COLD CHAIN SUPPLY CHAINS
The manufacturers of cold chain products continue to face many supply chain challenges like rising costs, tight container capacity, and decreasing quality warehouse space. Retailers, food supply distributors, shippers, and freight operators, all have been stretched by the escalating demand more so in the last couple of years due to global pandemic situation.
Shifting demand patters: Consumer demand is shifting from traditional frozen to fresh, organic, exotic meat / fish and vegetables further accentuated by emergency situation in distribution of Covid Vaccines. This is driving the demand up for building additional space & capacities in Refrigerated Warehouses/ distribution networks globally.
Lack of a global uniform infrastructure:One cannot assume to find a uniform cold chain infrastructure across international markets. Even the most advanced and energy-efficient active cooling technology would not work without a proper power & correct adapter meeting the voltage requirement in a specific country.
Ecological impact on environment / carbon footprint: In addition to high power consumption, (that is combustion of fossil fuels) refrigerant gases such as Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) used in cold chains are responsible for high (GHG) greenhouse gas emissions, which hurt the environment in a great deal over longer periods.
Impact of increased & non-standard regulations across borders: Different countries may have diverse guidelines in place that govern the movement of cargo and its components. Problems arise because there is no single global Good Distribution Practices (GDP), and even existing frameworks keep changing, adding to the complexities of compliance.
Risks in storage and/ or transportation: While the storage aspect of cold chain is improving great deal over last 5 years, temperature management while intransportation has not made similar progress in the same period. There are multiple areas that can go wrong i.e. hardware failure, vehicle breakdown, monitoring devices breakdown.
Human error while loading & unloading: A lack of understanding about cold chain products and the exposure areas associated with it, will create exposure risks for the quality of cold chain products. The way workers approach preservation & safety aspects as well as the measures they take to reduce exposure, breakages/ spoilage will determine the final outcome & quality.
ACTIONS THAT PROFESSIONALS /ORGANIZATIONS NEED TO DRIVE
Invest in advanced technology which will develop energy efficient infrastructure & natural cooling methods for industries and consumers at large.
Smart buildings are able to automate energy use through A.I. controlled sensors. These systems can regulate cooling and control the refrigeration energy used to reduce indirect emissions.
Evaporative cooling is also an alternative, in which evaporating water into the air provides a natural and energy-efficient means of cooling, reducing energy use significantly in this process
Augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) can be deployed for remote maintenance of cold chain warehouses so experts from one location can guide and help local teams with the help of AR tools to immediately rectify a problem or even prevent it.
To drive for a globally consistent regulatory regime, effectively controlling some of the most common refrigerants used in A/Cs and freezers. Efforts should also be made to replace refrigerants with lower emissions & find alternatives.
Seriously cater to the energy intensive requirements of products while minimizing the pressure on natural resources. They need to offer “Thermal Storage” technology, which is 100% fuel-free and environmentally friendly as well.
Location Intelligence will be a gamechanger in the optimization of critical last-mile and large supply networks, especially significant in rural markets that do not have access to the kind of technology usually found in urban centres.
Focused Employee Training which will develop understanding of the Cold Chain products and likely effects of excursions on product efficacy should be made mandatory. Organizations may use technology like AR/VR for training of professionals who may not have the experience of handling / delivery of cold chain products.
KEY ELEMENTS TO CONSIDER IN A COLD CHAIN DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM
These are the vital elements and must haves in your cold chain distribution infrastructure.
Cooling systems: These systems are used to reduce the temperature of the goods. Once the appropriate temperature is achieved, the commodities are taken for further processing.
Cold storage: Having a quality Cold storage facility becomes extremely important for storing cold chain products for longer periods. These storage systems ensure that the perishable products are fresh and safe for usage and consumption over a certain period.
Monitoring systems: In the case of Cold Chain products, it becomes vital to ensure the item’s integrity is not compromised. Hence having reliable temperature monitoring systems reduces the chance of spoilage/ exposure. Based on the data proactive measures can be taken to avert any likely temperature excursions Cold chain processing and distribution infrastructure: Cold processing and distribution facilities consolidate loads from multiple suppliers and distribute them to various destinations to meet customer demand. These facilities help businesses become more efficient by reducing transportation costs, improving inventory management systems, and increasing productivity.
Cold Chain transportation infrastructure: It is another crucial element in the cold chain supply chain that helps the frozen items to move between locations. It helps to transport the goods to the desired destination while maintaining the suitable temperature and the integrity of the commodity.
Temperature-sensitive products rely on support infrastructure to maintain their efficacy, and adherence to safety & relevant regulatory requirements.
A well organised and sustainable Cold Chain distribution & logistics management systemis essential to supply the products continuously at minimum wastage/ loss and be able to reach / feed consumers across global regions. Besides providing a good quality and consistent supply, it is our responsibility to use clean energy, increase food safety and simultaneously improve the livelihoods of nearly half a billion small farmers all over global locations. We must acknowledge that these farmers are essential to today’s global food system and a major stakeholder in its future.
If designed correctly & with using advanced technologies such as solar or wind powered refrigeration, and cryogenic cooling, we can also reduce harmful pollution and degrading energy exploitation in cold chain storage /warehouse handling and transportation of products.