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Cold chain, the supreme discipline in logistics:

Automated monitoring for temperature-sensitive transport

Cold chains have always been the supreme discipline in logistics. But seldom before have all eyes been as focused on them as they are now during the pandemic. Meticulous compliance with regulations regarding refrigeration - as well as their documentation - is obligatory, especially in relation to vaccines; many pharmaceutical products have fundamentally critical requirements. But temperature-controlled quality assurance also plays a decisive role in the booming online food trade.

It applies in both areas, pharmaceutical and food logistics: compliance with regulatory provisions and, accordingly, comprehensive documentation for the transport of temperature-sensitive goods is required for obvious reasons. In the environment of pharmaceutical products, the provisions of GDP (Good Distribution Practice) apply, while in the case of foodstuffs, there are sub-categories of HACCP (Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points). Companies must therefore be able to provide comprehensive reports on the monitoring of refrigerated transports at any time: However, the effort required for this is often extremely high - and the personnel costs increase similarly.

Automated solutions for temperature monitoring offer a solution here, enabling an efficient and economical process from which both logistics companies and their clients benefit. This includes all vehicles involved as well as depot handling and therefore all cross-docking processes. Stringent monitoring is necessary where temperature control is not guaranteed by packaging or boxes and containers, for example on the basis of dry ice, but by cooling zones.

Automated processing of all temperature data

When documentation is required, manual monitoring always means additional work for the company's own logistics controllers - and hence costs money. For this reason, automated processing of all temperature data throughout the entire transport chain is of enormous advantage to transport companies. If possible, data is to be transmitted in encrypted form and is available in real time. Our operational transport management system cadis® supports the retrieval of professional temperature reports for the purpose of internal calculations or in the case of official inspections at the push of a button.

But even the best preparation of figures is of little use if data is only partially available. In this case, there is a risk of even more bureaucracy, as the data must be analyzed in order to check where additional manual research is required. Instead, only the integration of data from all sensors and different telematics systems provides the foundation for actually combining all sources and ensuring complete transparency. Ultimately, this also includes the connection of vehicle and depot data loggers.

This means that the entire cold chain can be monitored and documented in real time; all processes can also be traced in retrospect as explained in our use case. Any excursions, i.e. leaving the target temperature range, can also be traced. It is clear and easy to check when exactly this happened and to what extent.

Automation for error prevention

Automation helps to prevent errors in many areas - including the transport of temperature-sensitive goods. To ensure this, threshold values are set in advance and stored in the system; in the event of temperature discrepancies, ad hoc notification or, as far as possible, even independent control takes place. Temperature ranges can now be subdivided extremely finely: If a batch is placed in the "wrong" area, where the temperature is different from the desired one, an alarm signal will sound.

This works in the vehicle, which is often divided into several compartments separated by flexible partitions whose temperature differs. And it is also guaranteed in a transshipment terminal where different temperature ranges prevail.

How does the data transfer to the Transport Management System work?

  • The current temperature status of the storage location can be viewed and made available online within cadis® at any time by means of refrigeration data loggers in the freight compartment, transport container or terminal. Sensor-based data is transmitted to a cloud platform continuously or at fixed intervals. This raw data is available to the logistician and provides the basis for further processing steps.
     
  • Logistics processes supported by our efficient and user-friendly cadis® software allow the exact whereabouts of each individual package (handling unit) to be tracked without interruption and proactively prevent it from being placed in an unacceptable climate zone.
     
  • Intelligent algorithms link temperature and logistics process data in real time, allowing the complete temperature history to be retrieved within cadis®at any time, from goods issue at the sender to goods receipt at the recipient.
     
  • The data is displayed in a clearly understandable graph for the user and for supporting documents as explained in our use case.

Summary

For regulatory reasons, among others, it is necessary to document compliance throughout the cold chain. It is crucial that this is largely automated. Manual processes, in the course of which the logistics company's own employees evaluate the corresponding data by hand, are extremely uneconomical. However, this is not necessary, because today's software solutions offer all the advantages of fully autonomous documentation.

It is also easy to prevent possible errors: if batches are placed in the wrong temperature range during the transport process, a warning is issued immediately. Alarms signal in real time when temperatures leave a required range. This ensures safety - from collection through transport by several vehicles and across terminals to delivery at the final destination.

About the author

Dr. Margit Sturm is the Product Owner of cadis Global Solutions at KRATZER AUTOMATION, one of the leading providers of transport management solutions. She has a PhD in AI in the field of neural networks and their applications in robotics and sensor processing and has around 20 years of experience in the development of software for the logistics industry.