What is a Cold Chain? Preserving Product Quality with Modern Logistics Solutions

Hryhorii Sirenok
Project Manager at TRIARE
10 min read
What is a cold chain

If you take the global economy as a living organism, the supply chain net is its blood circulation system. Over the last decades, logistics have become highly comprehensive, making companies around the globe get themselves into a technological pursuit.

The cold chain logistics branch clearly stands out as being largely exposed to tech solutions’ impact. From damage prevention of perishable goods to tracking visibility, there are different types of logistics software that solve or prevent issues once considered inevitable. The cold chain industry is truly attractive given its high growth pace: it is valued at $330 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $763 billion in 2027 with an annual rate of 14.97%.

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What is a cold chain

The history of cold chains goes back to 1797 when British fishermen used ice to preserve what they caught. In 1938, Frederick Jones invented a portable air-cooling box for carriages transporting perishable food. During World War II, similar boxes were essential to the military for transporting and preserving blood, medicine, and food for hospitals and on the battlefield. The modern time surge of the cold chain industry has begun with the Interstate Highway Act of 1956.

In essence, the cold chain is an uninterrupted flow of a particular thermal profile along the production, packaging, and transportation of temperature-sensitive goods. In other words, the cold chain is a supply chain with strict temperature control. To be successful, it requires a stable sequence of refrigerated production, packaging, storage, transport, and distribution. Keeping the cold chain demands a clear understanding and control of the shipping circumstances, packaging parameters, delivery time, and all the critical points from the beginning to the end of the entire process.

Cold chain management is an integral part of the supply chain, dedicated to keeping a certain level of temperature and air variables including oxygen, carbon dioxide, and humidity. Any failure during the process of cold chain management, including transit, processing, storage, and the display will likely cause product spoilage and financial losses. Having the appropriate temperature and production environment is a key factor in the supply chain for all parties from the manufacturer to the end-customer.

Cold chain management iProducts journey map with the temperature exposure

What problems can cold chain software solve

According to the reports published by Bayer and Deloitte, cold chain management is increasingly becoming a data-driven operation. Notably, in the post-COVID-19 world, supply chain models created with automation, robotics, and data insight proved to be optimal for effective decision-making.

There are various cold chain logistics software options connected to smart systems of sensors, tags, pressure pads, and gateways that provide solutions to overcome the challenges of cold chain management. They produce reports on temperature fluctuations in real-time, much needed for preserving perishables. These solutions can be used all the way down the supply chain for end-to-end visibility of food products: from the manufacturing stage to when the consumers pick them up.

Cold chain logistics software directly addresses the following challenges:

  • Risk of waste and shortages. Cold chain apps have the ability to prevent disruptions by reporting on temperature changes in real-time. It empowers logistics managers to react quickly to avoid spoiling, maintain quality, and lighten the consequences of food waste.
  • Product safety. With a system of tags, sensors, and pressure pads cold chain logistics software enables effective monitoring of the entire lifecycle of goods.
  • Industry regulations. Cold chain logistics data-driven solutions collect detailed and accurate data. It allows for reliable administration, timely record-keeping, and a low risk of human error in ensuring compliance.
  • Food fraud. It is basically an intentional replacement of food with illegal products. Cold chain solutions can be pre-programmed to send warnings for any undesirable changes. It reduces the possibility of fraud.

cold chain software solve

Damage prevention of perishable goods

When it comes to transporting perishables, there are specific logistics requirements in terms of demand, packaging, and shipping timelines, combined with the particular types of equipment. The transportation costs for cold chain products are considerably higher than standard goods which leads to an increased risk of financial losses.

Fortunately, cold chain logistics software allows businesses to entertain a great level of control over the perishables along the entire supply chain. Essentially, it always comes down to making sure that the temperature regime is maintained exactly at the required level.

Via the system of sensors, tech solutions monitor temperatures over the following types of cold chain equipment:

  • Isothermal equipment. It has insulating walls that limit the heat exchange between the inside and outside of the product containers.
  • Refrigerated equipment. It reduces the inside temperature while maintaining it for a required level from -20ºC to 30ºC.
  • Freezers. A cold production mechanism for reducing the interior temperature of the large empty spaces, keeping it at a consistent temperature between -12ºC and -20ºC.


Innovative and technical approach to the cold chain

The technology is up for grabs for businesses that want to improve their cold chain – it only needs to be used in the right ways. The chaotic technology implementation may create more spoilage, efficiency gaps, and points of failure. Companies dedicated to investing in a better cold chain must employ innovation after identifying those gaps and then converting this knowledge into opportunities.

technical approach to the cold chainSoftware-based cold chain management

Let’s take a closer look at the trending cold chain logistics solutions.

IoT sensors provide companies and their customers with end-to-end visibility along the whole lifecycle of products inside the cold chain. They supply real-time data on all aspects: location, temperature, humidity, weather conditions, traffic jams, estimated time of delivery, border controls, and storage capacity. Businesses can avoid waste before it occurs by reacting in real-time to disruptions and taking advantage of supply chain control. Essentially, this data is needed to identify weaknesses, setting up conditions for a strong and stable cold chain.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are the hot trends in the cold chain world. They can interpret the data collected by IoT sensors, generated by GPS trackers, packaging data loggers, and manually-entered data. AI and ML apps review and analyze data to empower the effective decision-making process. They provide a data-backed toolkit with the insights you need to find gaps, reduce waste, maximize financial value, and identify hidden supply chain failure points.

Blockchain is an immutable, secure data ledger used to store, protect, and share essential product data. It may be used as the only source of information about the goods and their movement down the supply chain. All the chain participants can access your blockchain, obtaining full visibility and traceability of products at every lifecycle stage. For businesses operating stable cold chains, making this data available to customers helps to gain their trust and loyalty.

Loss of visibility of goods and status in the cold chain

In 2020, ParkourSC, a supply chain solutions provider, surveyed 210 U.S. professionals in the pharmaceutical and food industries and found that 92% cannot rely on data they have on products moving through their supply chains. Moreover, the respondents are losing millions of dollars annually from product waste because of the lack of supply chain visibility. Food companies lose between $71 million and $179 million per year.

As noted by IBM, supply chain visibility is the ability of stakeholders to view real-time information related to the processes of storage, shipment, and possible supply chain disruptions. Lack of visibility during the B2B operations is a considerable challenge.

However, real-time electronic data interchange (EDI) helps to maintain control over multiple logistics systems. Based on AI, it enables businesses to make faster operating queries to speed up the resolution of delivery issues. Specifically, cold chain logistics solutions help to cut disruption mitigation time from days to hours. Reliable, data-based insights can open opportunities to increase efficiencies and reduce costs. It can assist you with secured extended sharing, and real-time visibility to current stakeholders, suppliers, and customers while granting traceability and preserving immutability with blockchain.

Consolidation of drivers into one system

At a particular point, cold chain logistics may become too comprehensive to follow. As the business grows, it often copes with dozens of parallel transportation lines, vehicles, and drivers. In such a situation, there is a great need to see the big picture rather than separate operations.

To provide such a vision, companies employ the Consolidation Management System (CMS) – a tracking complex for integrated transportation that monitors shipment status at each designated stage together with vehicle status. For example, current truckload, cargo conditions at destination, speed limits, transportation documents tracking, and administration.

In practice, the CMS provides a non-stop flow of data, measuring it against required standards. If the delivery is running late or the cold chain is disrupted (e.g. the interior temperature is higher than needed), the system flags such cases and brings them to the decision-maker’s attention. As a result, supply chain operators do not have to look at each particular delivery route, but rather focus on incidents brought to them by the CMS.

tracking complex for integrated transportation

Display of any incidents taking place during the journey

Preventing cold chain disruptions is one of the main responsibilities of a logistics manager. Breaking the cold chain can cause various concerns, for instance, premature spoilage of goods, loss of organoleptic qualities (taste, form), and the appearance of harmful bacteria that spread quicker in relatively warm environments.

Undesirable incidents may occur at any stage of the cold chain: loading, storage, transportation, distribution, and sales. There are logistics solutions for each of those that have to comprise a full circle of control. In the cold chain, loading and unloading must be performed as fast as possible to avoid temperature fluctuations. The same goes for other stages, where the temperature and the rest of the variables have to be constantly watched.

The cold chain logistics solution that ensures comprehensive control over the full process of product dispatch is the Multi-Carrier Shipping Software. It integrates into the company’s computer system, making sure all incidents are noted. It also involves order processing, shipment tracking, and delivery verification.

The driver is out of sight. How the software can solve the problem

The transportation itself is arguably the most accident-prone supply chain stage. There are numerous potential threats that drivers have to deal with when they hit the road. Therefore, it is vital for companies to make sure their employees or contractors have as few obstacles as possible when delivering goods, especially under cold chain conditions.

Cold chain managers have started to utilize GPS-powered solutions to keep an eye on the drivers’ well-being. Such apps software can also flag unwanted cases, for example, driving too fast or not using seat belts. The data serves as a reliable basis for corrective action plans, particularly useful for growing businesses that manage large truck fleets.


Final thoughts

Building a sustainable cold chain is a challenging task, to say the least. There is no easy way to keep its different stages under full control, especially in cases of comprehensive supply chains. But here is just one out of a dozen logistics projects we’ve delivered: QC helps businesses track the conditions in which products move along the supply chain.

The cold chain logistics solutions are complex and it is often uncertain which impact they may have. However, as companies rush to utilize such software, many of them get huge benefits by gaining control over the entire cold chain. If anybody is still hesitating, there is no doubt that the time for change has come. Cold chain development is a direct response to it.

Ready to take action?
Hryhorii Sirenok
Project Manager at TRIARE