Maintaining the Cold Chain: Links in Review

Maintaining the Cold Chain: Links in Review

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For the most wide-ranging advice on cold chain management, a membership in the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA), based in Alexandria, Va., might be a good first move. “It’s critical that all parties work together to insure the maintenance of proper temperatures from the point of production to the point of the consumer,” says GCCA president, Corey Rosenbusch. “It’s our mission to promote that cause.”

With an eight-year tenure at GCCA, and a membership encompassing stakeholders from 67 countries, Rosenbusch is conversant in the scope of the mission, the challenges, and the innovations to that end.

One growing concern is the needs of infrastructure—domestic and international.

Internationally, the concern involves the growth of the middle class in countries like China and India, and the inherent increase in demand for higher quality food products. “You’ve got apples that come (refrigerated) all the way from Washington state that come off a container ship and then sit in the sun because they don’t have the temperature control infrastructure in place.” The challenge is trying to coordinate successful export to markets where they are not quite ready to receive and distribute the product.

Domestically, there is burgeoning interest in automation due to increasing labor costs and expanded environmental regulations. “We’re watching this very closely with the increased pressure, particularly here in the U.S.,” says Rosenbusch. Though as yet, he observes that, unlike the European Union, the U.S. is lagging behind in the adoption of automation for cold chain management.

At the same time, Americans love their gadgets. The most important technological changes Rosenbusch has witnessed involve product tracking and warehouse management systems. “There’s no paper anymore,” he says. “It’s all radio frequency tags [RFID].” This enables a customer to have real-time electronic data interchange regarding location and relative condition of product.

Not all the GCCA has to offer is broad in scope. For example, Rosenbusch just recently talked one of his members off a ledge after an ammonia leak (ammonia is a commonly used refrigerant). “Leaks only happen on rare occasions, but it’s a real crisis.” And GCCA has a step-by-step plan in place to deal with such a crisis—removal of ammonia, evaluation of potentially exposed product, etc.

Automation, Infrastructure

Having the experience of building automated infrastructure, Gavin Sargeant, vice-president automation, Conestoga Cold Storage, Ontario, Calif., can comment on the slow uptake in the U.S. “Automation is the predominant method of cold storage in the E.U., but it’s hard to get off the ground in the U.S. due to the capital expenditures,” says Sargeant.

And it can be risky. “If you don’t know what you’re doing, even if an otherwise successful company invests in it and makes a mistake, it can be catastrophic.”

Beyond capital outlay, the risk is in the initial design. For instance, if an automated cold storage facility doesn’t account for product throughput you had in mind, you can’t add more people and equipment to scale up. “You don’t have that ability in an automated facility that’s incorrectly designed—if the fundamental design of the system is incorrect, you’re done.”

Thus, third-party automated storage. “We determine our clients throughput needs, we design and manufacture the automated equipment, we build the buildings…they don’t have the risk.” And running the show is Conestoga software. “We hold our software very close to our hearts because that’s key to the success of the tracking, throughput, and reliability of the system,” says Sargeant.

Tech Trak

Perhaps there’s been no bigger and ongoing impact on the industry than radio frequency identification (RFID). According to the just published report, “Strategic Analysis of Global RFID in Cold Chain Market,” (Frost and Sullivan, Mountain View, Calif.) the estimated revenue from RFIDs in the cold chain market was $361.6 million in 2012, and this use is projected to expand by 27.5 percent through 2017.

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