How technology is transforming cold chain logistics into an intelligent and efficient machine

As modern consumers, we take it for granted that we can enjoy off-season fruits and vegetables, and delicacies made with ingredients sourced from other countries. This is all thanks to modern supply chains with cold storage capabilities or cold chains.

The benefits of these cold chains do not stop at food items alone. Biopharmaceutical cold-chains are the cornerstone of enabling access to life-saving healthcare products that include biologics, medications, and even vaccines.

Since the pandemic, cold chains have earned tremendous attention from businesses and governments due to the complexities associated with vaccine delivery, particularly in developing countries. According to a McKinsey report, storing certain covid vaccines above six weeks requires ultra low temperatures of –70°C. Others require traditional freezer capacities of –20°C. If stored at any higher temperatures, they risk losing their potency. The current cold chain storage capabilities are mostly capable of maintaining temperatures around 2 to 8°C temperatures: the standard for many non-covid vaccines. On top of this, the current supply chain infrastruture also lacks vehicles and warehouses with cold storage capabilities to distribute these vaccines at the required temperatures.

The challenge is not restricted to distributing vaccines. According to the International Institute for Refrigeration, close to 1.661 million tonnes of food that is produced can be refrigerated. However, only 47% is refrigerated, which leads to losses of 13% of food production. It noted that lack of cold storage and infrastructure was a leading cause for this. According to a report by Research and Markets, cold chain infrastructure in India still remains underdeveloped and fragmented in nature.

Bridging the infrastructure gap with speedy distribution

From government support and financing to innovation, much is being done to bridge the supply gap in cold chain infrastructure. Meanwhile, businesses must find ways to fasten the distribution of these temperature-sensitive products to minimize wastage. Manual logistics fulfillment processes are not enough to bring about last-mile excellence needed. Technology solutions are the most suitable for this task as they can outperform in many ways including:

End-to-end Automation

Powerful algorithms have the ability to reduce the amount of time and resources to complete repetitive, but crucial last-mile processes while also increasing their efficiency. One of these functions is the capture and allocation of shipments to vehicles. Often, driving cold-chain vehicles require specialized and experienced personnel to drive and operate. Order management features make sure that high-priority cold chain products are assigned to these vehicle.

Another prime example of this is route planning. Earlier, dispatchers would spend hours planning routes for their fleet with the help of their on-ground knowledge, gut instinct and cumbersome spreadsheets. Route planning solutions can, in a matter of minutes, leverage powerful algorithms to assign the most optimal routes to drivers on the basis of hundreds of real-life constraints including the least possible distance to travel, fuel emissions, priority of delivery, traffic conditions, among others. These incremental improvements

drivers to make more deliveries in the same day, which means more products can be saved from being exposed to warmer temperatures.

360 degree visibility and communication

Improving the efficiency of shipments also relies on the speed of decision-making. Control Tower solutions provide visibility over all drivers and their shipments in real-time. These solutions can be configured to provide automated alerts before any breaches in service level agreements. For example: they can alert supervisors in case the of a vehicle breakdown, deviations from optimized routes or if the temperature of a cold chain shipment is going up dangerously high. They can also help the seamless communication with drivers on the ground to rectify these issues and prevent costly delays that lead to product spoilage. Tracking pages provide real-time updates to the end-consumer, who also aware of the high stakes of these products. They can also seamlessly communicate with drivers to prevent delays.

Optimization through analytics

Advanced algorithms can process billions of data points that last-mile operations generate to uncover deep layers of inefficiency. They can also provide growth insights that are beyond the capabilities of average humans through intuitive dashboards. These in turn can be leveraged to reduce the delivery times of these time-sensitive cold storage products and provide longer shelf lives.

To sum up

Excellence at all stages of transportation is key to cold chain logistics, especially as infrastructure is yet to scale up to meet the required demand. This means that there is often fewer storage units and cold storage vehicles for products to go around, which drastically reduces the shelf life of these products. Technology solutions can help cold chain logistics companies reduce the spoilage of these temperature-sensitive products by ramping up the efficiency delivery through automation, enabling 360 degree visibility, and leveraging the power of analytics to uncover deep inefficiencies.

The writer is the Founder and CEO of Locus

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