The success of industries that rely on the cold chain comes down to knowing how to ship a product with temperature control adapted to the shipping circumstances. Cold chain operations have substantially improved in recent decades, and the industry can answer the requirement of a wide range of products.
Different products require different temperature levels to stay intact during transport. The industry has set temperature standards to accommodate most products. The most common standards are “banana” (13 °C), “chill” (2 °C), “frozen” (-18 °C), and “deep-frozen” (-29 °C), each for specific product groups. Staying within this temperature range is vital to the integrity of a shipment along the supply chain.
The type of container and the refrigeration method used largely determine how long a shipment will stay within a certain temperature range. About 20% of all the energy consumed in cold chain logistics involves cargo refrigeration.
What factors are important in deciding what type of packaging is required, and the related level of energy consumption? They can range from small insulated boxes that require dry ice or gel packs, rolling containers, or a reefer, which has its own powered refrigeration unit. The major cold chain technologies in providing a temperature-controlled environment during transport involve:
- Dry ice. Solid carbon dioxide is about -80°C and is capable of keeping a shipment frozen for an extended period of time. It is particularly used for the shipping of pharmaceuticals, dangerous goods, and foodstuffs and in refrigerated unit load devices for air cargo. Dry ice does not melt. Instead, it sublimates when it comes in contact with air.
- Gel packs. Large shares of pharmaceutical and medicinal shipments are classified as chilled products, which means they must be stored in a temperature range between 2 and 8°C. The most common way to provide this temperature is to use gel packs or packages that contain substances that can change from solid to liquid and back again. We recommend using Ice Cold Gel Packs.
- Eutectic plates. Also known as "cold plates", work similarly to gel packs. They are filled with a liquid and can be reused multiple times. These plates have a variety of uses, such as keeping rolling refrigerated units cold or maintaining a constant temperature in delivery vehicles for short periods of time.
- Liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen is a very cold substance, used to keep packages frozen over a long period of time. It is considered a hazardous substance for transportation. Quilts are insulated pieces that are placed over or around freight to help maintain a constant temperature. This can help frozen freight stay frozen for a longer period of time.
- Quilts. Quilts are insulated pieces of fabric that are used to protect freight from temperature fluctuations. They can keep frozen freight frozen for longer periods of time, or keep temperature-sensitive freight at room temperature, depending on the conditions.
- Reefers. The generic name for a temperature-controlled transport unit can be a van, small truck, semi-trailer, as well as an ISO container. This container is able to keep cargo temperature cool or warm. The term reefer more often applies to refrigerated ISO containers that are 40 feet high (45R1 being the size and type code).
The cold storage facility is the most commonly used in cold chain logistics. It can range from a single temperature-controlled room servicing a single user and function to a large dedicated distribution center servicing multiple users and functions.