By Joe Reedy, Vice President Sales & Marketing, AA Cargo
The concept of cold chain shipping is decades old, but it wasn’t until the past several years that industry has seen great advances in technology, processes, and standards for moving temperature-sensitive products. This recent rise is due to a greater demand for these products and increased international demand for pharmaceuticals. While this has driven the air cargo industry to refine and improve its cold chain services, not all supply chain stakeholders have invested the same amount of time, money, and resources into the development of their services. Shippers and forwarders are instinctively selective in choosing cold chain partners to help move their cargo, but it is sometimes difficult to know the right questions to ask when evaluating potential carriers. Asking questions like these can make all the difference in choosing the right partner.
1. Breadth and Depth of Service: How wide is your network, and to how many locations can you safely ship my temperature-sensitive cargo?
A shipper should weigh the extent of a cold chain partner’s network against their own market ambitions. For instance, a shipper seeking to move temperature-sensitive cargo to more than one market may encounter challenges if their carrier has a limited network supporting cold chain infrastructure. This can restrict the markets to which temperature-sensitive cargo can be shipped. More important, perhaps, is the level of cold-chain competence throughout the network. Cold chain infrastructure may exist in multiple locations within a partner’s network, but unless employees are trained to work with temperature-controlled cargo, that infrastructure may not be sufficient to ensure the cargo is safely moved to the next segment of the cold chain. Cold chain partners should show low levels of wasted product due to supply chain errors. This is one way shippers and forwarders can determine the quality of a cold chain partner’s processes. A tested and refined process will result in lower levels of wasted product due to temperature fluctuations.
2. Qualification and Validation: What assurances do I have that my cargo will arrive safely?
The cold chain environment is changing rapidly, with new technologies coming to market and a growing global demand for increasingly delicate products requiring temperature-controlled shipping. Today, as processes, technology, and best practices change and improve, one critical element is confidence in one’s cold chain partner. Reputation, past performance, and professionalism are all indicators of cold-chain competence. These points of trust can be reinforced if a cold chain provider attains accreditation from a reliable authority, indicating how closely a cold chain partner follows the guidance issued by both government and industry bodies for cold chain processes, packaging, and technology. These include numerous reports and recommendations from the World Health Organization, United States Pharmacopeia’s General Chapter 1079 on Good Shipping and Storage Practices, and the International Air Transport Association’s Perishable Cargo Regulations.
3. Monitoring and Communication: How is my shipment monitored once it enters the cold chain?
Technologies for tracking and monitoring temperature-controlled cargo, such as sensors and GPS devices, are becoming more common. In the future, these kinds of devices may become more standard, allowing all shippers to monitor their cargo from end-to-end. Yet, more important than knowing location and temperature — sometimes only after the fact — is having confidence that one’s cold chain partners are monitoring the cargo throughout its journey. The relationship between forwarder and airline must include effective communication. One of the most effective methods of monitoring shipments is a truly collaborative approach, whereby all stakeholders charged with moving temperature-sensitive cargo work together to monitor location and temperature, consider challenges and collectively resolve them, and provide real-time, firsthand knowledge of the cargo to the customer. This kind of engagement allows shippers and forwarders to feel confident that their cargo is in safe hands, even if they are unable to validate that independently in real time.
Clear and direct communication up front supports the building of a collaborative team where trust, solid planning, and good execution lay the groundwork for success.