The “Cool” Facts About Remote Cold Chain Management

Every transportation expert has faced situations where a truckload of perishables is left waiting for a crew to unload the shipment at a distribution center. How do you deal with the challenge of guaranteeing that the reefer temperature remains constant so that the quality and safety of the product is maintained?

Jim Donnelly, President of ASL Transportation Group, Inc. in Williamstown, NJ, had to find a solution for that dilemma.  Approximately five years ago, during contract negotiations, his customer, Carvel Ice Cream, asked how the company was going to handle this type of situation.  ASL dealt with the issue by hiring a watchman to periodically check on the trailer temperature overnight, until the driver could take over the next morning. That solved the immediate problem; however, Jim knew this was not the ultimate solution.

“We wanted to have more control over the situation. As part of the cold chain, it’s our responsibility to ensure that the product we transport, whether it’s food or produce, gets to its destination unadulterated.  It’s absolutely essential that we avoid temperature breaches and guarantee product integrity. Our trailer distributor told me about a tracking and monitoring solution that would allow us to control the reefer temperature directly from our offices,” Jim recounted. “That’s how we came to deploy the StarTrak system in all of our refrigeration units.”

The need for cold chain management is impossible to overestimate. The cost of food spoilage due to temperature breaches can be huge, from tens of thousands of dollars, to hundreds of thousands of dollars, per trailer. The damage to the relationship between carrier and customer can be even more costly. ASL Transportation Group wanted to be able to remotely control the temperatures in their reefer units whenever they noticed a change.  This technology was originally developed for rail transport, using satellite communications; however, more affordable solutions have been created for truckload carriers and private fleets, using cellular-based controls and monitoring.

Sensors in the units indicate a number of variables that are immediately sent to the office where monitoring takes place. If the sensor detects either a change in temperature, or if the refrigeration unit malfunctions, the office sees this and can either restart the unit or adjust the temperatures. If the unit doesn’t respond, service can be initiated before the cargo has been adversely affected. Sensors also detect when fuel levels are running low and send out an alert to the office. Although drivers always check their fuel levels, if the unit is sitting in a lot, unattended for a long period of time, it is still using fuel to keep the temperature stable. The low fuel alert gives the office enough time to respond before the unit completely runs out of fuel. Sensors also indicate when the trailer doors are opened and closed, which helps increase cargo security.

Being able to monitor all of these issues results in quick response time which, in turn, saves money and those savings positively impact your ROI. Jim Donnelly has seen this in his business. He no longer has to hire people to walk around and check on temperatures. “We tell the unit what it has to be, and we can monitor it to see that temperatures remain constant, right from our office. Now that we have this solution, we can’t imagine doing business without it.”

David Beaudry

About David Beaudry

David Beaudry is Director of Logistics Engineering and Consulting for NationaLease. He brings 25 years experience in surface transportation, logistics engineering, and consulting. His earlier career includes management posts with Ryder System Inc. and National Freight. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Central Connecticut State.

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