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‘Technology’s influence on cold chain is growing’

David Nicholls, Vice President of Situational Awareness and Telematics, Restrata, speaks exclusively with Hannah Jo Uy on how smart logistics is impacting the cold chain of the healthcare and FMCG sectors, and on the need to educate stakeholders on the cost-saving benefit of implementing disruptive technologies. Excerpts…

| | Feb 13, 2018 | 1:25 pm
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There is approximately a 25% global average loss of vaccines due to a weak cold chain, perhaps excluding the United States and Europe, despite the fact that vaccinations represent the cheapest form of preventive medicine. With this in mind, could you comment on areas of improvement with regard to cold chain practices, given that technologies do exist to avoid the unacceptable loss? What are the bottlenecks towards the adoption of the technologies within the healthcare industry?
The degradation of vaccines in transit can have a real impact on the efficacy of the vaccines. A drug being exposed to the wrong temperatures in the cold chain journey can result in prescriptions being compromised. It is vital that vaccines are transported and stored according to the manufacturer’s temperature recommendations; failure to do so means a drug dose may not be of sufficient quality to deliver the required

Temperature-monitoring sensors that link to a wider fleet management system do exist, and the development of these systems can be tailored to suit the bespoke needs of the supply chain operator. However, many transporters lack an understanding of what solutions fit their specific requirements. The marketplace has many options, both technically and commercially. A Trial ‘Proof of Concept’ Period, delivered by a responsible vendor is the best way to test a range of models and establish what works best for your business.

More effort is needed in many GCC [region] countries to better educate those in the industry about the benefits of temperature-monitoring technology and the wider telematics solution, ease of adoption and implementation and the potential cost savings that can be made. The media, government, and conference and exhibition organisers should be able to support with this type of knowledge sharing. Governments could potentially help by enforcing the use of these types of technology, with changes in legislation or by implementing regulations.

The UAE has already targeted the Logistics and Transportation sector, and the general public, with a host of new regulations and legislative change to improve safety on the roads, from enforcement of seatbelt use, digital tyre pressure monitoring and reduction in speed limits on major roads. This approach to temperature monitoring would certainly be beneficial for everyone.

According to estimates by the International Institute of Refrigeration, 23% of the food loss in developing countries is owing to lack of cold chain. In some countries, a weak cold chain also wreaks havoc in potential export and, subsequently, economic growth. What can be done to help alleviate massive losses?
Over the past few years, the FMCG sector has seen a surge in investments and expansions. Although some element of waste cannot be prevented, reducing its scale will deliver significant economic, social and environmental benefits. FMCG fleet operators play a critical role here, just as much as production and distribution companies, and there is an urgent need to increase the level of efficiency of FMCG fleets and logistics operators. Telematics technology can assist with driving efficiencies, beyond simply meeting the need to monitor temperature. The right telematics solution can deliver better driver engagement and optimised delivery schedules, resulting in reduced fuel consumption and a lower cost for vehicle maintenance.

In the UAE, AED 13 billion worth of food is wasted every year. Earlier this year, the UAE Food Bank was launched to collect surplus food and store it, so it can remain fresh and be distributed as meal packages to those in need in the UAE and outside the country. The cold chain, especially transport refrigeration, will play a very important role in the success of the Food Bank. How do you see this progressing and what, in your opinion, are vital components to ensure the success of the initiative?
Food waste directly impacts environmental sustainability due to proportionate wastage of water and other natural resources that support growth and cultivation. Conversely, logistics firms that do not follow high standards of energy management in cold chain transport, storage and handling increase the risk of loss.

Using technology to ensure the quality of food is maintained throughout the supply chain would help; much of the food loss can be reduced through intelligent logistics, which covers real-time quality checks and driver training.

What technology trends do you believe will massively impact cold chain in the UAE?Technology’s influence on the cold chain logistics industry is growing. From the implementation of temperature monitoring to the optimisation of product put-away and selection, technology has and always should disrupt this critical industry vertical. The challenge is leveraging that technology to bring efficiency and optimisation opportunities to our customers’ businesses, not just adopting the technology as a compliance ‘tick-box’ when forced.

As key players look to expand offerings and presence in new markets, expect 2018 to yield more consolidation in the cold chain shipping and packaging industry. For example, companies that excel in providing parcel-size packaging will likely try to introduce other sizes or technologies, just as those who hold market share in one location will likely look to merge with or acquire companies, allowing them to move into new markets.

Though technology can play a vital role, there is always the human element with each and every operation. Do you think better education is needed among stakeholders in the industry to promote and ensure best practices in cold chain?
As the cold chain relies upon so many different companies, the need for greater co-operation and communication along the chain clearly is the most important part of the entire process. Storage strategies, new technology, government regulation – all play an essential role, but it is bringing these different aspects together that determines their effectiveness, along with a robust training programme that will prepare employees to make the best use of new systems. A product can cross the globe in a carefully controlled cold chain ecosystem, only to be left on a pallet in the baking sun of the Gulf for 30 minutes whilst pallets are being unloaded and delivered to a customer site.

Education is the key. We see awareness on the rise, with various organisations running educational events and knowledge-sharing forums to share knowledge across the sector. We’ve experienced demand for sharing our own knowledge, with industry forums inviting us to speak at regional events, and even hosting our own briefing events for clients and interested parties to share best practice.

Broadly speaking, what are the areas of improvement you see in cold chain fleet operators in the UAE when it comes to integrating cold chain monitoring technology in their operations? How can solution providers motivate fleet operators to invest in such technologies, as they may be deterred by the higher initial cost it will entail?
Firstly, there is often a misconception that a telematics solution is costly; however, many systems do not require the upfront purchase of hardware but work with the existing in-built hardware that manufacturers install. A telematics company can just display the latent data on a web-based platform in a meaningful way. A good telematics provider will offer a range of solutions from basic to premium, depending on client requirements and budget. Lastly, Return on Investment (ROI) is a key factor – our clients have benefitted from significant cost savings within 6-8 weeks of implementation. Cost savings can come from reduced fuel consumption, no late/missed delivery fines from clients and no damaged consignment fines, just to name a few.

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