Technology is transforming the supply chain, and cold chain management is also evolving as a result. But there’s a huge difference between how the overall supply chain operates versus an individual cold chain warehouse, or even a group of them, for that matter.
In general, a cold chain warehouse deals with more static operations, as opposed to traditional logistics, which tend to be on-the-move. Major warehouse concerns include goods storage, handling and packaging, order fulfillment, and beyond. Depending on the operation, parties may or may not be responsible for moving the cold goods, including storing them appropriately during transport.
But what does all of this have to do with technology? The answer is that technology is making it much more simple and efficient to manage and fulfill these kinds of operations. The Internet of Things (IoT), for example, enables an unprecedented level of transparency, also opening the door to many new and interesting opportunities.
What are those opportunities, exactly? How is technology improving the average cold chain warehouse and related management processes?
In any warehouse, cold or otherwise, the efficient use of space is crucial, particularly when storing and organizing goods. Items must be stored appropriately but also in a way that aids picking processes. Smart shelving and racking solutions go a long way towards improving this system.
Mobile racking is one form of it, where the undercarriage — positioned directly below shelving units — moves across rails. Drones can be applied similarly, like what Amazon uses in its warehouses. By using a combination of mobile racking and smart technologies, such as IoT, the entire shelving setup can be automated, boosting productivity and safety levels.
Workers can find the goods required for order-picking at faster rates, the entire warehouse is organized quickly and safely, and there are cost savings as a result.
Internet of Things (IoT)
IoT devices have an active connection to a network, local or public, to collect, analyze, and process data, and then leverage it to take action.
Imagine this scenario. An IoT-enabled warehouse sensor, attached to the refrigeration and cooling systems, detects a major drop in temperature. Right away, it sends out an alert to the appropriate maintenance and management crews that a problem has been discovered.
Then, instead of waiting for a response, it fires up a machine learning solution. That machine learning tool begins poring through the data, current and historic, to discern what’s going on. By the time the maintenance crews respond, they know what’s happening, and why, thanks to the automated system.
Moreover, with multiple sensors deployed throughout the warehouse, the same system can pinpoint the problem’s point of origin.
IoT devices, sensors, and solutions provide tremendous value. They can be used to track and monitor goods, count inventory, monitor temperatures, interact with workers on the floor, aid in current operations, and much more.
It’s especially helpful for equipment that has demanding requirements, like ultra-low-temperature storage systems. They must be kept at frigid temperatures below -18°C because they often contain vaccines or pharmaceuticals, biological samples, or perishable foods.
Having an IoT sensor attached allows the system to be monitored remotely, in real-time, with instant alerts if and when something changes.
Acting as a decentralized ledger, blockchain can improve transparency and accountability in the supply chain. For warehouses, in particular, the technology offers incredible opportunities to track and manage goods from their source to the buyer.
Walmart has already been using blockchain to this end, boosting transparency for better reactions to things like foodborne illnesses and bacterial events. Products can be tracked along the blockchain, as lots or individually, to ensure proper storage conditions, vet them for potential damage, or manage inventory and supply.
General Cold Chain Management
A lot goes into the smooth and proper operation of any warehouse, from logistics to staffing and equipment maintenance. Modern solutions can make this more efficient with the help of IoT, AI or machine learning, cloud computing, and automation, just to name a few. Digitization is key, which calls for upgrading all legacy-based analog processes and systems to a digital format.
Once the digital transformation happens, all information can be fed into a central system, driven by AI and machine learning, to analyze, process, and react to events. It suddenly becomes possible to manage staffing, for instance, through automation, based on demand and labor hours. Schedules can be determined and correlated with incoming shipments, large orders, and similar events.
Even something as simple as warehouse lighting can be improved considerably with the help of IoT and AI. Motion sensors can detect when parties are in the warehouse, ensuring lights are on, but also powering them down when no movement is detected. It’s simple, smart, and could save hundreds of thousands of dollars over time.
Technology: The Name of the Game
Technology is a major disruptor across many industries, it’s true. That’s because of how much it has to offer in terms of process transformations, efficiency gains, and cost savings. These benefits can also be realized in cold chain management and cold chain warehouses.
Things like smart racking and transportation solutions, IoT sensors, and the blockchain all have the potential to revolutionize the field. Then there are machine learning, AI, and automation opportunities that can be leveraged to boost productivity, streamline processes, and save money. Ultimately, technology is the future of cold chain management.
Bio: Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over 3 years covering stories about warehousing, logistics and distribution.