Cold Chains: Real-time Visibility and Cargo Integrity

  • February 14, 2017
  • Kristy Cartier
  • Reading Time: 2 minutes

In a previous post, we talked generally about supply-chain management. This time, let’s dig deeper into a specialty area of real-time monitoring and the visibility it provides for the integrity of the shipment. Cold Chain is defined by Wikipedia as “a temperature-controlled supply chain. An unbroken cold chain is an uninterrupted series of storage and distribution activities which maintain a given temperature range.” Some of the typical shipments that need to stay refrigerated or frozen are food, pharmaceuticals, animal food products and flowers. These shipments often fall under multiple regulations, such as the Food Safety Modernization Act or the Risk Management Program. To stay in compliance, it’s not only crucial to have real-time location monitoring, but real-time condition monitoring, such as temperature, too.

Cold chains are the linked sequences of cold storage and refrigerated transport that keep temperature-sensitive cargo fresh (unspoiled) and intact from origin to destination. The viable temperature range is often very tight—within a few degrees—requiring careful monitoring and coordination among all the links in the chain.

When something goes wrong, the consequences can be both expensive and dire. It’s bad enough to lose the monetary value of the cargo; it’s worse to lose a badly-needed shipment of vaccines to a particular area, or food and medical supplies when someone is depending on them. The downstream effects ripple through other supply chains, causing expense and delays that are difficult to predict and manage.


Verifying the temperature and other environmental factors at the end of a shipment is minimum standard. It’s certainly better than nothing, however it does not guarantee that the cargo has remained within specifications during the entire transit. Fortunately, the Internet of Things (IoT) has stepped in to offer a more comprehensive solution. Small, inexpensive monitoring devices with powerful web-based visibility tools and always-on wireless connectivity provide constant real-time, 24-hour data streams of temperature, ambient light, and other environmental information as well as up-to-the-minute location data to enable cargo tracking. These devices are battery operated and are often inexpensive enough to be treated as disposable.

By providing immediate notification of temperature variations, the tracking devices give shippers and third-party logistics companies (3PLs) time to correct problems before a shipment is damaged or destroyed and must be discarded. The cost and other benefits of assuring cargo integrity in this way cannot be overstated. Best of all, with international GSM (or the universal 2.4 GHz band) the tracking devices work internationally, protecting even long-distance shipments. A long battery life and low cost means that you can toss a tracking device into a container for real-time “set it and forget it” confidence that the most sensitive cargo will arrive undamaged, and provide the means to track it all the way to its destination.

For more information about how CalAmp SCI™ can help make your cold chain visible, visit here.