Discussions among the 400 cold chain professionals at our Cold Chain Live! 2023 conference in September spanned a wide range of our industry’s current and future priorities, opportunities and challenges.
One of the most important topics examined was how, in a warming world with a growing population, we can achieve the significant increase in cold chain services required to meet society’s future needs while also reducing our carbon impact. This evolution must happen without compromising its ability to be ready to respond and adapt swiftly to the kinds of unprecedented supply issues we have seen over the past four years. Some key themes featured repeatedly in the discussions about meeting this challenge. Development of people and skills, collaboration with peers and partners, embracing emerging technologies, adopting alternative fuels, boosting energy efficiency and harnessing the power of AI will all have a central role to play. However, as each of these opportunities were explored, a feature common to them came to the fore – the vital importance of capturing, analysing and utilising data.
Better use of data is already changing how we operate cold chain. In temperature-controlled distribution data is now being used more effectively than ever to improve the efficient running, safety and security of refrigerated trailers. In cold stores, data and information gathered from building surveys, equipment operation and energy submetering is supporting analysis of trends and anomalies, bringing a range of benefits to operators.
In the immediate term, this comprehensive level of data is increasingly identifying ways cold chain logistics operators can reduce energy and fuel wastage (and therefore reduce cost), monitor how efficiently refrigeration systems are operating and fix problems early to prevent expensive problems before they arise.
Capturing and assessing this level of data now can also bring important advantages for operators looking further ahead. Recent energy data can be used to predict energy performance for the next year and it can also help ensure renewable energy installations are properly specified and future proof. Energy data analysis and results of thermographic surveys are also essential to making informed decisions about major investments into buildings, equipment and new technologies.
It is not just in cost savings that sophisticated use of data brings valuable advantages for cold chain operators, there is also great potential to apply detailed data knowledge to create competitive advantage. DFDS, for example, told the Cold Chain Live audience about the new service it has launched whereby detailed emissions analysis enables them to provide a ‘carbon savings certificate’ for clients opting for their low carbon solution.
Similarly, at a time when recruitment and retention remain high on the agenda of cold chain operators, use of data can not only help operators understand how to identify training needs for team members to boost their efficiency, but can also in itself offer new and exciting analyst roles to attract young professionals.
As we look to the wider challenges and opportunities in temperature-controlled logistics over the coming years and decades, there is no doubt that the knowledge and insights which can be gained by capturing and analysing data with increasing sophistication will be a prevailing feature of the new look cold chain.