Keeping it cool in refrigerated transport

Technology and design improvements are making refrigerated transport safer and more efficient

PHOTO: A high level of supply chain safety is crucial to protect perishable cargo in the Middle East’s harsh weather conditions. Credit: Shutterstock

As the UAE and GCC gear up to host mega-events and improve their tourism offering, the hospitality and food and beverage sectors are bound to grow. Combined with the growing population in the region, it’s safe to say demand for food products is only expected to go upwards.

All this food, however, will need to be transported in a safe and hygienic manner. According to a United Nations study, a third of perishables is lost or wasted globally, amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes per year. With countries like the UAE importing a significant portion of the food they consume, a high level of supply chain safety is crucial to protect perishable cargo in harsh weather conditions characteristic of the region.

With these factors in mind, it’s interesting to examine how manufacturers and fleet operators in the refrigerated transport industry are working to become more cost- and energy-efficient in moving goods around, and ensuring high safety standards in the process. In an increasingly tech-savvy era, it’s no surprise to see technology playing a huge role in driving the change.

Thermo King, a manufacturer of temperature control systems for the transport industry, is beginning to see increased uptake for telematics systems among fleet operators. “There is quite a bit of demand. It has taken off in the Middle East in the last maybe four or five years, where we’ve seen increased awareness about solutions in the market,” says Paul McGarrigle, area manager for Middle East and Africa at Thermo King.

Customers can opt for systems to fit their particular needs, ranging from simple data-logging units to record temperatures during transit, to more complex options with advanced features. For instance, some systems enable fleet operators to programme door locks on vehicles not to open before a truck or trailer enters a particular area.

When asked whether there is interest in more advanced options, McGariggle points out that it depends on the industry. “We would have a great deal of interest and uptake for advanced systems from the pharmaceutical industry, for instance. Somebody who’s transporting chocolate bars, on the other hand, may not go for the advanced system. He may go for something simpler.”

Massar Solutions, an Abu Dhabi company providing fleet management and supply chain services, is also harnessing telematics to increase cold chain efficiency. “We spend a lot of time and money on telematics,” says Brent Melvin, general manager of supply chain. In March, the company made a sizeable acquisition of Krone Reefer Body Semi Trailers, manufactured by GORICA Group and equipped with telematics systems.

The use of telematics for Massar Solutions is two-fold: to help ensure that cold chain integrity is protected by recording temperatures throughout, and to gather operational data on the vehicles. The systems give the firm and its customers the ability to record and constantly monitor in real time a whole range of data via a web portal, including engine and driver performance, trailer temperature and payload condition, door openings, tyre pressure, travel time and route progress. In case of irregularities or unexpected events, an immediate alert is sent directly to the user’s PC via SMS, email or a popup window.

Idle time can also be monitored, Melvin notes. A high amount of idling doesn’t bode well for any fleet owner, but is especially bad in the refrigerated transport business. “Idling has two effects: one is cost for the truck, as you’re burning diesel, and two is when you’re not moving the vehicle, you’re not moving air across the reefer engine. So you put strain on the reefer engine, which can compromise the cold chain.”

Telematics helps companies like Massar assure customers that their cargo has been transported within specified temperature ranges, while also ensuring the entire operation becomes safer and more efficient. This helps minimise the risk of damaged goods and optimises fuel consumption.

While technology like telematics can help save energy in refrigerated transport, it is important to look at other ways the industry is looking to reduce its carbon footprint. At last year’s IAA in Germany, Thermo King announced new developments to its line-up designed to make its products – such as the SLX range popular in the Middle East – more eco-friendly.

“We are moving away from the traditional R-404A freon that we’re currently using. We worked with a major global freon manufacturer to develop R-452A, which has about 50% less global warming potential than R-404A,” McGarrigle says. “As a global manufacturer, we have a responsibility to keep trying to improve efficiency and make our products more carbon-friendly, so that was one of the big announcements that we made last year.”

The company also made other changes more specific to the Middle East region, he notes, such as unveiling new products to suit market needs – for example, the Ce range for light trucks and the T-Dairy range for mid-sized trucks, specifically catering to the dairy industry.

“The T-Dairy unit uses 60% less engine oil than its predecessor. It’s using 21% less fuel to produce even more efficient results. There’s 65% reduction in particulate matter from the engine, and the engine is 55% quieter,” McGarrigle notes.

With increasing awareness of food hygiene practices and the need for more sustainability in business operations, companies in the refrigerated transport industry are taking the initiative to adopt best practices across the supply chain. However, Melvin expects government legislation to play an increasing role in improving standards.

“We would quite honestly welcome some structure to the movement of perishable cargo. There is a fair amount of legislation related to warehousing and so forth. Our view is that a lot more needs to be done,” he says, referring to how many old trucks carrying perishables without adequate protection still ply the roads in the region. But he is positive about where the industry is headed overall.

“As more and more requirements are put on us, it’s obviously an opportunity to step up to better quality of business. People are now taking leadership roles in meeting better standards before it’s even imposed on us, and I think that’s quite exciting to see.”

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