Changes To Cold Transport Business
The challenges facing cold transport companies in terms of increased refrigerated transport regulations, industry trends, environmental concerns and new tech. Logistics and manufacturers facing up to and responding to new trends Transporting refrigerated goods such as foods and pharmaceuticals has always been a highly exacting and demanding transport and logistics sector, and increasing demands are causing manufacturers and logistics companies to adapt to meet new challenges. This juggling of best transport methods is an ongoing challenge for road freight services professionals. What are these new challenges and what are manufacturers and companies doing to meet them? Stiffer regulations EU and other world bodies are introducing ever more stringent regulations relating to the storage and distribution of refrigerated goods. For example, the EU introduced guidelines for the distribution of medicinal products that covered strict temperature requirements to include not only specialised drugs but basic over the counter medications, too. It’s reached the stage where, in the EU, around 80% of pharmaceutical products have to adhere to strict temperature controlled transportation. Other countries, particularly the United States, are following suit. Regarding food safety, legislation from the American FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has been in place since 2011 to record each step of the food supply chain. To respond to this, manufacturers are incorporating more exacting monitoring practices into their activities. Transport methods Fuel prices, storage efficiency and man power availability - for example the challenge in recruiting lorry drivers - has caused changes in transport methods in some cases. The need to balance costs and the ‘speed to market’ is always paramount, but so is the need to meet ever-more stringent temperature control requirements. For example, while pharmaceuticals are commonly transported by air in the interests of speed, some logistics providers have switched to cargo ship as it’s easier to track progress - and temperature control in shipping containers has vastly improved. Higher quality and limited shelf life foods and drugs An increasing trend in food is on higher quality cuisine that entails more exacting storage and distribution requirements. Certain premium foods can deteriorate if subject to even a slight variation in storage temperature, and some have a limited shelf life, so improved refrigeration and faster transportation is required. The same applies to some drugs; some specialised medications developed to treat rare diseases have to be stored and transported at specific temperatures. Therefore, investment in higher quality temperature monitoring and equipment capable of more consistent refrigeration has been required along with improved logistical planning to move the goods faster. Worldwide transportation Foods and drugs are becoming more international in terms of where they originate and where they end up. The trend for specific health and ‘high end’ foods from certain countries and, with pharmaceuticals, the development of specialised drugs means goods being transported far greater distances than previously. As above, increased investment in equipment and logistical efficiency is the order of the day along with the need to be conversant with an increased number of countries’ regulations. Environmental concerns By its nature refrigeration uses energy and there are environmental ramifications in the use of refrigerant gasses. New types such as ammonia-based compounds are being trialled, and improved insulation methods are being developed to save on fuel costs. More exacting temperature controlling methods such as onboard fleet management systems help maintain consistent temperature standards. Investing in technology In order to record accurate temperature and logistics data, constant improvements in IT have to be made both in terms of ‘back office’ equipment and the hardware used to record and report transportation data. Equipment is being developed constantly to provide ever-more accurate and immediate temperature and location details, so companies have to invest in the latest tech to maintain high standards and stay competitive. Packaging improvements The need to provide improved insulation, protect the environment and reduce waste has seen packaging improvements in terms of the use of more reusable containers. The challenge is balancing packaging costs with the need to meet transportation and temperature controls. Product freshness New freezing, chilling and processing techniques help keep food fresher and reduce the need for preservatives. In order to meet their customers’ requirements for speed of delivery and product freshness, transportation companies are in turn making higher demands on their third party logistics (3PLs) partners that provide refrigerated transport. To this end, some 3PLs are investing heavily in their warehousing facilities such as new racking systems and automation. Techniques such as delayed food processing are being adopted; for example, food is prepared and packaged to fulfil particular orders rather than being processed a long way in advance and held in stock. High pressure processing is a technique to kill microorganisms rather than adding several preservatives to the food. A new technique likely to come on stream before long is X-ray to help ensure food safety. Balancing resources with demands Increased customer demands, trends such as foods and pharmaceuticals travelling longer distances, and the need to meet ever-more stringent regulations have to be balanced with available resources. Transport companies must invest in a refrigerated fleet, and the industry currently faces a shortage of manpower. Even once new drivers have been recruited, they need to be specially trained in transporting frozen goods so there’s often a time lag to get a fleet to full strength. The trend for smaller yet more frequent orders has caused transport companies to develop the use of multi-cell trailers; these effectively incorporate compartments with different temperature zones so a more varied mixture of goods can be transported in one go. The ongoing challenge for cold transport companies and 3PLs will be to rise to future challenges and more exacting standards yet balance the books.