For hundreds of years, humans have been scratching their heads over the logistics of transporting temperature and time-sensitive products to their intended destinations. With time has come the technology to accomplish faster trips over longer distances with product secured safely in its own appropriate “habitable zone” as it zooms along to store shelves near you. Without our modern cold chain, our ice cream would arrive as sugary soup, our pharmaceutical products would not be safe and a more skeptical eye would be trolling the grocery store aisles. Thankfully, we rarely have to worry about the logistics of it all – we just walk up, buy that pint of Häagen-Daaz and grab a spoon to enjoy it without giving much thought to how it has maintained its quality and freshness.
Well, some people do have to give it thought, and those individuals are typically in fields concerned with logistics and supply chain management. When Unilever Hungary ran a sort of stress test on its own cold chain to pinpoint any weak links that might pose a threat to the quality of its products, they managed to find exactly where the cold chain was breaking: “During the trial, it gained experience using RFID and temperature-sensor technology, and found occasional breaks in the cold chain—particularly when goods were loaded on and off trucks.”
Supply chain management software is proving its worth to the logistics field with advancements that include temperature-sensitive shipment status via RFID tracking and real-time product location and managment through warehouse management systems and inventory management software. Keeping shipments within a safe temperature range is only part of the cold chain challenge – obtaining a level of visibility that allows you to keep a constant eye on the products as they are being unloaded, stored and moved is the other half, and that is evolving through advancements in software and technology.
At its humblest beginnings, the cold chain consisted of fish and meat packed in ice as it was shipped across oceans to busy ports and eager consumers. Centuries later, it’s still basically the same – we’ve just developed and implemented the technology to make it faster, safer and more efficient. Thanks to automation, the cold chain is heating up – in a good way.