Industry Insight

How to handle temperature-controlled shipments

Covid-19 has attracted attention to the issue of temperature-controlled shipments of medication and particularly ultra-cold transportation. What do we need to know about this? What is important for logistics?

Some Covid-19 vaccinations, which are being distributed around the world at this time, require temperatures ranging between minus 20 and minus 70 degrees Celsius. There is no doubt that the pandemic has once again showed how important temperature-controlled shipments are. This topic has therefore become a central focus of attention, particularly in our sector. We all know that shipments, which guarantee that the specific cold chain for the product has been followed, particularly so-called ultra-cold shipments requiring extreme freezing conditions, are a real challenge. However, we also know that logistics companies with the relevant experience can handle them. What is essential when transporting substances that require cold chains like medication or even food? Here is one example from real life.

The Rhenus subsidiary, Rhenus Intermodal Systems, has been handling highly sensitive, ultra-cold shipments for the US chemicals Corporation, DuPont de Nemours, since 2012. The company requires an end-to-end cold chain of between minus 55 and minus 60 degrees Celsius. Specially manufactured reefers, in which Siberian frosty temperatures are maintained, make this possible.

Reliably maintaining the target temperature

These shipments for DuPont involve temperature-sensitive cultures for the food industry – starter cultures that are mainly used in the dairy industry, for example, for making yoghurt and cheese. They have to survive transportation between the production sites and warehouses all over the world without suffering any damage. The deep-frozen cargo is stowed in special reefers and hoisted on to truck trailer chasses. Permanently monitored cooling units maintain the target temperature.

“The organisms are very valuable and expensive. That’s why DuPont was looking for a reliable transport service provider, which would precisely implement the special requirements,” says Bastian Vogt, an International Key Account Manager at Rhenus. The truck drivers used for these shipments have therefore received special training. “They actively monitor and control the equipment along the routes at the prescribed checkpoints. There is also an emergency GPS tracking system to provide support. We have 100 percent delivery reliability for this ultra-cold business,” Vogt adds.

A dependable control system

“The routes are permanently defined, the drivers have to report back regularly and may only go to specified fuel stations,” Vogt explains. If a problem emerges with the cargo, the driver, customer and dispatcher are immediately informed by text message via a GPS alarm system. “We had a case like this once. A temperature deviation occurred because of a faulty container. We were able to respond quickly thanks to the alarm system and protect the freight,” Vogt reports. The logistics specialist company naturally also benefited from its enormous experience in shipping temperature-controlled goods in this situation – for many customers in various sectors.

Temperature-controlled shipments: definition

Temperature-controlled shipments ensure that the specific cold chain for the product is followed and the goods reach the next point in the production or delivery sequence with the desired quality level. This not only applies to food or its intermediate products like the lactic acid bacteria mentioned in the report. It is particularly relevant for medicines, as the current discussion about the distribution of Covid-19 vaccinations illustrates. Sensitive substances like cosmetics, paints or varnishes can place similarly high demands on logistics operations. The issue here is not always refrigeration either. Many substances, for example, chocolate, oils and fats, must be heated when they are transported. Shipments of fresh goods, on the other hand, normally require end-to-end refrigeration or even deep-freeze conditions. Shipments down to minus 20 degrees are most commonly required. But the temperature needed may drop to minus 60 or even minus 70 degrees, as the practical example involving DuPont or even the Covid-19 vaccinations show.

What is your situation? What are the special requirements for temperature-controlled shipments that you wish to share with the community?

The four basics for the greatest possible reliability

What are the main issues involved when transporting substances that require a cold chain? “Their reliability depends on several factors and particularly ensuring that they dovetail perfectly,” says Vogt. He summarises the four most important points once again:

  • Reefers: the sensitive, deep-frozen cargo is placed in high-tech containers at the production site; they are very well insulated and have enormously powerful cooling units.
  • Cooling units: permanently monitored high-performance units keep the cargo cold during transportation.
  • Checkpoints: specially trained truck drivers check the cargo and technology at set points along the transport routes.
  • GPS alarm system: the truck with the cold cargo is permanently tracked by GPS. If any problems occur, for example, a deviation from the target temperature, the driver, customer and dispatcher are informed by text message. This makes it possible to find a solution to the problem quickly.  

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