Home FleetWatch 2019 Keeping tabs on the cold chain

Keeping tabs on the cold chain

Over the years, many South African truck operators specialising in the transportation of perishables have gained reputations as providers of reliable, efficient and cost-effective operations. These successful operators are examples of consistent performance through on-going investment in - and maintenance of - superior cold chain standards.
Over the years, many South African truck operators specialising in the transportation of perishables have gained reputations as providers of reliable, efficient and cost-effective operations. These successful operators are examples of consistent performance through on-going investment in - and maintenance of - superior cold chain standards.

Food safety regulations and rules applied to transporting perishables such as fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy and other products are being tightened in numerous countries. Every year, thousands of people are treated for food borne related illnesses with the recent outbreak of Listeriosis in South Africa acting as a sad but timely reminder of this problem writes FleetWatch correspondent Max Braun who provides some pointers on insulation.

A matter that is seldom discussed is the degradation over time of insulated load boxes on rigid vehicles and semi-trailers. Studies regularly conducted in various countries indicate that after about five to six years in service, there is a gradual loss of the insulation integrity due to damage and the impact of age which can compromise insulation by as much as 40%.

Taking note that there is no local regulation to limit the useful life of insulated vehicles (Reefers), there is a case for owners and operators to review their respective replacement cycles, this especially so since only few vehicles have been tested/assessed in the thermal chamber based in Pretoria.

Useful life is impacted by how well a body is maintained particularly to prevent water ingress. Clinton Holcroft CEO, Serco
Useful life is impacted by how well a body is maintained particularly to prevent water ingress. Clinton Holcroft CEO, Serco

Typical operating experience known to owners and operators identifies numerous events that contribute to impacting on the efficiency of their insulated assets. High up on the list is fuel wasted when fridge units work harder for longer periods to compensate for the fading insulation. Depending on the overall condition of the loadbox, fuel consumed by the fridge unit can be close to double what it should be.

Other areas known to contribute to the overall degradation of the insulation properties include:

  • Leaking floor seals as well as cracked and damaged side panels – roof and floor.
  • Anything that impedes the air flow compromises the surface and at times, the core temperatures of fresh products. Attention to ensure reasonable space between the ceiling and floor of the loadbox is a critical factor.
  • Loading vehicles presents several challenges as it refers to maintaining required cold chain temperatures. The length of time goods stand on the loading deck before loading finds a significant loss of temperature.
  • And don’t forget that in cases where water has been trapped in side panels, the vehicle carries unnecessary mass.

We must keep in mind this is not just about food quality. Rather it is also about food safety which, in today’s world, represents an on-going challenge for producers, transporters, brokers, shippers and consignees.

Revisiting the question of useful life to ensure decent maintenance of the cold chain, it is clear that on-going monitoring and measuring temperatures is now fundamental to minimising risk or compromising food safety. There are various tried and proven ways to gain and maintain access to sources responsible for compromising temperatures before loading, during loading, on-board, offloading and beyond if needs be.

In conversation with several experienced and knowledgeable industry experts, I called on Clinton Holcroft, CEO at SERCO the well-respected trailer and loadbox builders. Clinton’s view confirms useful life is impacted by how well the bodies are maintained particularly to prevent water ingress. For highly sensitive products and multi-drops, the life would be five years. For general refrigerated goods – i.e. fruit and vegetables – body life expectancy would be eight to ten years.

Typical views expressed by experienced fleet managers with long practical experience generally concur with this. Rassie Erasmus, fleet specialist at Parmalat South Africa who has wide-ranging experience spanning 25 years, is one such person.

“I had a trailer where the outer and inner skins cracked resulting in compromised insulation. My feeling is that 10 years is the useful life of semi-trailers as they work hard – often double stacking 60 pallets at a time. Also, at this age, some components such as brakes are outdated and are not compatible with the updated technology of the new prime-movers,” says Erasmus.
He adds that rigid vehicles can be OK for seven years with the proviso that the body floor be re-covered every two to three years. Door gaskets also need to be in good condition and replaced when needed.

Fading insulation of a loadbox will result in the fridge unit working harder and longer to compensate, thus using more fuel.
Fading insulation of a loadbox will result in the fridge unit working harder and longer to compensate, thus using more fuel.

“I have seen tests on heat transfer on several different bodies and was surprised to see new bodies seeping so much heat between the roof, side panels and the front corners. Now imagine the heat transfer when bodies are five years old and have covered between 300 000 km and 500 000 km. Then add the constant banging of pallets against the sides and the movement of the body seams while the vehicle is moving. Regrettably, load bodies cannot be replaced every three to five years.”

To gain a better understanding of the options available to small or large carriers, it is necessary to investigate and seek feedback in respect of telematics, tracking and related specialised equipment uniquely suited to monitoring and measuring temperature in any number of situations and applications. When comprehensively implemented, the critical question of determining the useful life of insulated load boxes (on rigid trucks or trailers) will be self-explanatory.

An option worth considering is adopting structured financial leases over a period of say 60 months to minimise the need to realise a major increase in capital costs when replacing older vehicles.

How telematics systems can help
As hinted at above, telematics systems play an essential role in monitoring temperature variations along the cold chain and to this end, we put some questions to Harry Louw, CEO of Cartrack, to determine what fleet management systems such as theirs can offer the transporter.

Q: Do you see the refrigerated transport sector as having special needs that telematics systems can cater to? If so, what are these specific needs and how do you cater to them?
A: Cartrack provides a key solution to the refrigeration and transport sector by not only monitoring the vehicle but also the refrigeration and temperature systems of the load. It is crucial in any cold chain process to have processes and controls in place to ensure that the optimum quality of the load is maintained right up to delivery. Cartrack’s system will accurately manage the temperature to ensure that the load is delivered within the temperature range specified for the product. Our offering extends beyond the frozen and fresh produce market to medical supplies and animals in transit.

Q: One of the critical factors in the transport of perishables is the maintenance of the laid-down temperatures during transit. How does your system help operators to monitor any variances in temperatures? This would have to be real-time monitoring and feedback. Do you offer this?
A: Cartrack’s internationally certified solution, tried and tested in markets across the world, can monitor temperatures during transit in any climate. Thresholds can be set so that variances are alerted in a timeous manner to ensure real-time monitoring and feedback to the fleet manager. This also applies to the refrigerated reefer engines, which in some instances, have separate fuel supplies. The management of the refrigerated system also ensures that it is always in sync with what is required for the transport of the load.

Q: One of the biggest problems in all sectors of trucking is the waiting time at off-loading points. A refrigerated vehicle has extra costs added via the use of diesel to keep the fridge unit running. Do you identify and segment standing time for feedback to the transporter?
A: Offloading not only consumes diesel but also results in delays in the execution of the delivery service. The Cartrack system allows you to manage the temperature and delivery times, which resultantly limits the idling and refrigeration costs. Additional monitoring systems connected to the doors of a refrigerated truck allow suppliers to monitor that the doors are only kept open for a minimum amount of time. Open doors during loading can result in a spoilt load or can add to the transport costs as the cold or refrigerated air escapes, thereby contributing to diesel costs.

Q: What other features of your telematics system can help refrigerated transporters conduct their business to the highest standards?
A: Aside from the complete monitoring of the security of the vehicle and its refrigeration temperatures, Cartrack’s system provides temperature monitoring for the various zones in the truck. This includes refrigerator reefer integration, management of diagnostic and error codes, as well as linked, real-time reporting that shows access control to the vehicle, doors and other third-party factors that could influence the control of the temperature.

Finger on the telematics pulse
Another company approached for their telematics solutions to cold chain temperature monitoring is Pointer South Africa whose response, together with Cartrack’s above, shows that the telematics sector has its finger firmly on the pulse when it comes to helping the transporters of perishables to achieve Best Practice at every stage of the cold chain.

According to Ms Dian Govender, national sales manager of Pointer SA, the trend of manufacturers requiring the haulier to provide a ‘Record of Cold Chain’ is on the rise and failure to do so could disqualify valuable shipments and leave the transporters with unhappy customers and in breach of service level agreements.
Of equal concern, says Govender, is that the world of cold chain supply is predicted to introduce stricter regulations in the coming years, driven by both the Pharma-industry and its regulatory bodies as well as the ever-increasing health stringencies found in the food industry. The monitoring of temperature and humidity is already a compulsory requirement in certain supply chains.
Pointer’s Cold Chain solutions provide real-time monitoring of the cargo temperature and humidity. The solution allows for continuous recording, event-triggered logic and ‘management by exceptions’ through flexible programming of business rules to help manage supply chain challenges, minimise delays resulting in product damage and reduce insurance expenses.

Pointer SA’s Cold Chain monitoring solution meets the requirements of the pharmaceutical and food industries. It enhances the control and monitoring of goods in the warehouse and on the road, in-turn ensuring smarter supply chain management.

The solution enables Cold Chain transporters to monitor multi-compartment refrigerated trailers or even single pallets within a refrigerated vehicle. The solution provides real time alerts in the cab and to the control room, reporting deviations in pre-defined humidity or temperature thresholds enabling fleet managers to manage by exception.

Hard-wired or RF linked temperature probes, in conjunction with cargo door sensors, monitor and analyse temperature fluctuations while in transit and during off-loading when cargo doors are open. Pointer CelloTrack Nano and wireless sensor solution enables the monitoring of up to 16 pallets or compartments in a single vehicle.

The versatility of the system allows you to monitor, in real-time, the location, temperature and humidity of cargo. Undesirable events like impact/free-fall or light can be detected on more precious or perishable cargo.

“The CelloTrack Nano is the essence of IoT – where sensors, location and communication technologies meet,” says Govender, adding that Pointer provides monitoring and reporting tools that ensure compliance with GDP (Good Distribution Practices) that regulates the Pharma industry and EN 12830 (European standards) for the transportation of products requiring temperature control and monitoring.

So next time you pop into your local supermarket to buy your favourite fruit and vegs, spare a thought for the guys who transport these products to the shelves. It is not an easy job. In fact, it is probably one of the most intensive jobs in the trucking industry. They all deserve the highest salute for the work they do and the service they provide to society – both locally and internationally.

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