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Challenges in refrigerated transportation

What are some of the challenges from refrigerated transport?
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

Truck drivers and fleet managers have plenty on their plates to account for before, during and after every delivery. Nowhere is this more evident than when refrigerated transportation is utilized.

Since trucking is an integral part of the U.S. economy, shippers, carriers and drivers are tasked with delivering many items, including perishable foods and other goods that need to be placed in specific temperatures during the journey.

According to the global software provider, Blue Tree Systems, freight carriers dealing with refrigerated cargo know all too well the new challenges sprouting up. Greater difficulty and potential frustrations can come about from increased regulations, whereas other instances arise from technology.

"Freight carriers dealing with refrigerated cargo know all too well the new challenges sprouting up."

Whatever the case, some challenges in refrigerated transportation are important for everyone in the logistics management to understand in order to ensure smooth delivery and avoid potential issues.

Challenge No. 1 – Regulations
Government regulations in recent years have made compliance more difficult. For example, legislation can have powerful implications for the transportation industry, according to Lowell Randel of Refrigerated and Frozen Foods magazine.

In essence, the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act is to prevent food safety risks that may stem from failure to protect food during transportation, such as inadequate cleaning measures or not properly refrigerating the cargo. Every aspect of the transportation industry is affected, from warehousing to the driver, and each group will have to account for different areas.

For example, shippers will be required to specifically highlight to the carriers the various sanitation requirements. According to the FDA's proposed rule, a shipper is classified as the person who initiates a shipment of food by semi-trailer. Shippers will also have to inspect equipment for cleanliness. Challenges subsequently arise, in particular with members of the Global Cold Chain Alliance.

However, problems may come about because according to Randel, very few members of the GCCA take ownership of the foods being stored and transported. The FDA's proposed rule does not take this unique situation into account, and as such, does not acknowledge how responsibility flows throughout the supply chain.

Overall, however, the rules put forth by the FDA may add extra time that is vital to meet delivery deadlines. A possible solution to some of these questions may be solved by March 2016, when the FDA is required to review public comments and issue a final rule.

Challenge No. 2 – Failing equipment
Equipment is not perfect, and this is reflected when breakdowns occur. Refrigerated machines are no different, and because they are so complex in terms of parts and system functions. Sure, mechanics and professionals who know the equipment inside and out can diagnose and fix glaring issues, but challenges can, and will, occur if equipment failures happen while on the road or when the professional isn't available.

The intricacy of refrigeration units is exemplified because according to Blue Tree, there are approximately 200 fault codes. In other words, modern units have 200 or more ways they can fail.

The implications from equipment failures are far and wide. The ability to maintain the temperature of the important cargo will increase in difficulty. Due to the numerous ways a refrigerated unit can fail, drivers cannot be expected to employ a quick fix and resume driving.

Intelligent alarms represent a potential solution to help alleviate the challenge. For example, as soon as a failure arises, a message containing the fault code and severity of the problem will be sent to the carrier. The driver can then be alerted and told what actions to take for potential fixes, and to keep the cargo safe.

Challenge No. 3 – Not spotting faults
A driver's first priority is to get behind the wheel and make the delivery. To no fault of their own, truckers cannot be expected to detect issues with the refrigerated cargo they're transporting. Unless they're taking a required break, drivers are on the road. This presents a problem in its own because it may be a few hours before a driver notices a problem with the cargo, and by then, it can be too late.

"Real-time data can save those valuable shipments."

Enter smart data management. This isn't the stuff of science fiction; in fact, real-time data can save those valuable shipments. Temperature monitors can trigger early warnings before issues worsen. Here's how it can work: Shippers can set the required tolerance levels depending on the cargo. If temperatures fall above or below the predetermined level, that data is immediately reported.

The transmission of real-time data can then lead to drivers being alerted about the issue, showcasing how data recording is a valuable tool for the trucking industry.

Challenge No. 4 – Driver miscues
Drivers transporting refrigerated cargo have many items on their checklist, and this can unfortunately lead to unintended results. Truckers are typically required to set the mode of operation and run a manual defrost if need be.

As one can imagine, the process and refrigeration units are complex and there are bound to be errors. While more training can help, that time ultimately takes away from hours a trucker can spend on the road. As with automatically detecting equipment failure, automatic error detection can be used to detect problems drivers didn't catch.

Refrigerated transportation vastly differs from delivering other types of cargo. There are many more moving parts that carriers, shippers and drivers have to account for. Human error is not always avoidable, but with automatic error detection and data collection, issues can be spotted before getting worse.

Over time, the trucking industry will likely adapt to some of these challenges in refrigerated transportation.