Cold supply chain logistics: UAVs' role in future

The Indian cold chain involves transportation of temperature-sensitive products. It is a supply chain which takes place through thermal and refrigerated packaging methods to protect the integrity of the products in shipments. The cold chain sector is a combination of surface storage and refrigerated transport.

Cold chain is still at a nascent stage. Although, there is large production of perishables but still the cold chain potential remains untapped due to multiple reasons like high share of single commodity cold storage; high initial investment (for refrigerator units and land); lack of Basic Enabling Infrastructure (roads, water supply, power supply, drainage, etc.); lack of awareness for handling perishable produce and lapse of service either by the storage provider or the transporter leading to poor quality produce. Due to fledgling cold supply chain there is a heavy loss of food and other resources. These losses have been stated to be as high as Rs 52,000 to Rs 95,000 crores per annum from the agriculture sector alone.

Agriculture plays a very vital role in India’s economy. As per published reports over ~58% of the rural households depends on agriculture as their primary means of livelihood. The share of primary sectors (including agriculture, livestock, forestry and fishery) is estimated to be 20.4% of the gross value added during 2016-17.

With globalization, as the relative distance between the regions has become much smaller, the physical distances between them is indeed an important reality. The farther the regions, the more likely is the freight to get damaged in the elaborate transportation process. While some goods can be damaged while stacking, or in transit, some may get damaged due to temperature variations.

For a range of goods like food items and other perishables, the contents of the shipment start to deteriorate on exposure to environmental conditions and temperature variations. Transporting such goods poses specific challenges to ensure that the deliverables are as fresh when delivered. To assure that the cargo does not get damaged through the process, businesses are highly relying on the cold chain.

What is the Cold Chain?

The cold chain, or cool chain, refers to maintaining just the right temperature for perishable goods, while in transit. It is a temperature-controlled supply chain that links the scientific processes with perishability. The growing need for temperature-controlled logistics to transport temperature-sensitive products like medicinal goods, food and beverages, and other perishable items, led to the evolution of the cold chain. Today, this chain has become an integral part of the modem supply chain to transport more sensitive and vital cargo through diverse temperatures and climatic conditions. The process paves way for reduced spoilage and intact product quality.

The Advent of Cold Chain Logistics

While some goods can withstand slight temperature fluctuations, others can get damaged with even the slightest variation in their environment. Cold chain logistics is the process of transporting such temperature-sensitive goods as food and beverages, and pharmaceutical products. They serve to maintain just the right temperature and constant environmental conditions throughout the transportation process. The cold chain logistics help in minimizing the threat for such deviations and reduce the environmental shifts. They help in maintaining the quality, consistency, and flavor of the deliverables.

One of the leading cold chain logistics in India is Snowman Logistics. It is a leading provider of integrated temperature-controlled logistics facilities, and other value-add services. The company specializes in providing nationwide warehousing, distribution and temperature-controlled warehousing facilities across the country.

Lately, the industry has been witnessing a growing demand from the food industry for temperature-controlled services due to increasing urbanisation and changing patterns of customer consumption.In November 2020, the company recorded a 52 week high, up 10% on the BSE, on favourable demand prospects.

Emergence of UAVs - The next big leap in Cold Chain Logistics.

Adopting the drone technology in this cold supply chain can open up new markets and service opportunities. The impact these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles can have is monumental. Including drones in the cold chain logistics can speed up the transportation phase and help in reaching out to the inaccessible rural areas. Integrating the drone technology with the cold chain can strengthen the existing logistics and widen the access to a larger population. Using drones to deliver temperature-controlled products such as biopharmaceutical products can be ideal to ensure the quality and consistency of the deliverables.

Cold Chain Logistics in India - Agriculture and Medical Devices

The Indian economy is highly dependent on agricultural practices. Over 58 percent of rural households rely on agriculture as their primary source of livelihood. During 2016-17, the share of primary sectors including agriculture, livestock, forestry, and fisheries was at 20.4% of the gross value added. India ranks amongst the largest producers and a leader of various agricultural products, but whether the country has adequate infrastructure and technology to sustain and export high-quality agricultural resources, is still a major concern.

The Indian cold chain takes place through thermal and refrigerated packaging methods to protect the integrity of temperature-sensitive products in shipments. The sector is a combination of surface storage and refrigerated transport.

However, the cold supply chain is still at a nascent stage in the country. Although India hosts a large production of perishables, the cold supply chain and the cold chain logistics potential still remains untapped. This may be attributed to various factors, such as a high proportion of single commodity cold storage, the high initial investment for the cold chain equipment, and inadequate basic infrastructures like roads, land, and power supply. The lack of knowledge of handling of perishable goods, the lapse of service by the storage provider or the transporter adds to the same, thus affecting the deliverable's quality.

This results in a strong loss of food and other perishable resources due to the fledgling cold supply chain in the region. The inadequate cold supply chain hampers the country’s food exports as well, as countries follow stringent guidelines for the import of food products.

However, with the development of organized retail and food processing sectors, India's cold supply chain industry is booming. The country is moving towards the development of cold storage systems and the provision of effective services through the value chain.

With the Indian cold chain market getting more organized, the country is paving way for the safe storage and deliveries of the Covid-19 vaccines. The government has begun a major exercise to map out cold chain storage facilities to ensure that the vaccine is distributed rapidly across the nation. An estimation of cold chain space needed for vaccines has been made, taking into consideration the temperature variations which might be required for the different products.

As the safe deliveries of the vaccine require the country to amp up its cold storage and cold supply chain facilities, adopting the drone technology in this cold supply chain can open up new markets and service opportunities for the country. It can speed up the transportation phase for these highly temperature-sensitive vaccines and help in reaching out to the inaccessible rural areas

As the whole world gears up to ensure safe deliveries and storage of the Covid-19 vaccines across their nations, the Indian cold chain market is also getting more organized as the Indian government is working upon ramping up the country’s cold chain industry and logistics. With such changing times, are the UAVs and Road Networks efficient enough to perform up to the required standards in such a short period of time? Well, only time will tell.

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