Play It Cool, Boy - Real Cool
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There are three pieces of information every manager needs to know about perishable products in their supply chain:
1) How many do I have?
2) Where are they?
3) When do they expire?
Yes, there are other important details (such as the cost of the goods) but in order to properly manage products on a daily basis, that’s the list. Airplane seats are a good example. Airlines know the number of open seats on the flight, the airport at which they’re located and the time the flight departs. You wouldn’t consider managing with less information. It’s the epitome of a perishable product – the open seats become worthless at the moment of the plane’s departure.
Perishable products on a pallet are no different. Every manager knows the number of products and the identity of the truck or warehouse location where they’re housed. But the products’ condition is often nothing more than a guess. With food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices or industrial chemicals, the expiration date is typically the best gauge we have (until the deterioration is obvious). Unfortunately, the expiration date is only a prediction based on average storage conditions.
The actual expiration, or “product life,” is a moving target – it can be much shorter or longer than the expected expiration date. It’s an invisible attribute that’s affected mainly by the temperature variances that the products are subjected to during storage and transportation.
Temperatures of products during shipment have been monitored for decades. However, temperatures are usually monitored for a small segment of a product’s life simply to verify that products were shipped under acceptable conditions (or that a reefer unit isn’t broken). The cost and complexities of monitoring and logging conditions from production to consumption have been too daunting to be practical.
TempTRIP, LLC of Broomfield, Colorado, now offers a system that makes continual temperature monitoring an economic reality. The company manufactures credit-card sized electronic temperature-logging “tags” that are inexpensive, reusable and have a five-year battery life. But, more importantly, TempTRIP has built an efficient system of identifying, retrieving and transferring temperature results to each company’s secure page on TempTRIP’s website.
When tags are ordered online, TempTRIP tracks the company and location to where they will be shipped. As tags are started and attached to products, the unique ID of the tag and product are correlated, electronically. As the tags travel with the goods, temperature results can be extracted at any point with or without removing them from the pallets or boxes to which they’re attached.
Throughout the life of a perishable product, the temperature results are accumulated and used to accurately calculate the amount of life left in the product. So, you’ll know if those strawberries have ten or only five days left. You’ll know if a drug is still efficacious or if it’s time to discard it.
It’s not only the immediate results that are important. Over time, companies are able to build data into useful information for improving the conditions – and thus the useful life – of the products in their supply chain. All data collected in the TempTRIP system are available in easy-to-understand Web pages where companies can review, report, analyze and archive their results without installing any software.
TempTRIP emphasizes that the life of a perishable product includes many different “segments” of transportation and storage. After all, it’s a cold chain, not just a link. Rather than treating temperature monitoring as an emergency service – fixing wrecks as they occur – the TempTRIP system provides meaningful temperature records that include data from all segments as products are transported and stored.
TempTRIP has been successful at building an easy-to-implement, affordable system that connects all segments in a product’s life, stores historic data and makes information transparent and accessible. Companies that are serious about protecting and extending the life of their products as well as managing their cold chain over time can benefit from TempTRIP’s technology.