The transportation and storage of temperature-sensitive products such as pharmaceuticals, food and other perishable goods is a continuing challenge in air cargo logistics.
The integrity and quality of these products are highly dependent on temperature control, and any deviation from the required temperature range can lead to significant losses. Cold chain technology has emerged as a solution for the air cargo industry to ensure that climate-sensitive products are transported and stored under the required conditions.
Maintaining temperature control
The transportation of temperature-sensitive products is complex, with packages insulated and transported in climate-controlled containers. Any deviation from the required temperature range can affect the quality and efficacy of the cargo and lead to product degradation, spoilage and loss. The consequences of such losses can be significant, including financial injury, regulatory noncompliance and damage to brand reputation.
The use of cold chain technology in air cargo has become increasingly important due to growth in the pharmaceutical and food industries. The transportation of vaccines, biologics and other life-saving drugs requires strict temperature control to ensure their safety and efficacy. Similarly, the transportation of perishable foods such as seafood, fruit and vegetables also requires temperature control to maintain freshness and quality.
Supply chain management
Supply chain management plays a crucial role in cold chain logistics — from packaging and transportation to storage and distribution — to ensure products remain at the required temperature. The use of technology such as sensors and data loggers has made it easier to track and monitor temperatures throughout the cold supply chain.
Several types of cold chain packaging and containers are available, including insulated, refrigerated, and climate controlled.
Insulated containers are usually made of materials such as polystyrene or polyurethane foam, providing thermal insulation that helps maintain the required temperature range. Refrigerated containers are equipped with cooling systems that help maintain the temperature. Temperature-controlled containers are similar to refrigerated containers but have more advanced climate-control systems that can maintain precise temperature ranges.
Advancements in cold chain technology
Recent technological advances have improved the efficiency and effectiveness of cold chain logistics and resulted in better temperature control and reduced losses. These improvements include the use of IoT sensors, blockchain technology and data analytics.
IoT sensors monitor the temperature and other environmental conditions during transportation and storage. They provide real-time data to identify temperature deviations and take corrective actions.
Blockchain technology is used to ensure the integrity and security of the supply chain data.
Data analytics use information collected from the sensors and other sources to identify trends, patterns and opportunities for improvement.
Challenges in cold chain logistics
Lack of standardization is one challenge of implementing cold chain technology in the air cargo industry. With products requiring different temperature ranges, the lack of standard protocols for temperature control can lead to errors in the logistics process.
Some regions also face a lack of available infrastructure and appropriate storage facilities, making it difficult to maintain the required temperatures.
Regulatory compliance, certification requirements
Regulatory compliance is critical in cold chain logistics to ensure the safety and efficacy of temperature-sensitive products. Regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization (WHO) and European Medicines Agency have issued guidelines for the transportation and storage of temperature-sensitive products.
Certification is also essential. IATA and WHO issue certifications for companies that meet the standards for cold chain air cargo logistics. These certifications help to ensure that the companies have the necessary infrastructure, processes and systems to maintain required temperature conditions.
Best practices for cold chain implementation
- Conduct a risk assessment to identify potential vulnerabilities;
- Select appropriate packaging and containers that meet the temperature-control requirements
- Use sensors and data loggers to monitor the temperature and other environmental conditions during transportation and storage;
- Develop standard operating procedures for the logistics process and ensure that all stakeholders are trained on them; and
- Conduct regular audits and inspections to ensure regulatory and certification standards are met.
Gavi has successfully implemented cold chain technology to ensure effective transportation of vaccines to remote and hard-to-reach areas. The system uses temperature-controlled containers, sensors, and data loggers to monitor temperatures during transport and storage.
In another example, Emirates SkyCargo has implemented a specialized cold chain system that ensures the freshness and quality of seafood. The system uses temperature-controlled containers, real-time monitoring and data analytics to maintain the required refrigeration conditions.
Future of cold chain tech in air cargo
With the rise in global trade and e-commerce, demand for temperature-sensitive products is expected to increase and will drive the need for more efficient and effective cold chain logistics solutions. Also, the use of autonomous vehicles and drones for transportation and delivery is expected to increase, providing more flexibility and speed in logistics.