Temperature-controlled shipping—also known as climate-controlled shipping or cold shipping—is a critical component of the cold supply chain. Temperature-controlled trucking uses specialized techniques and packaging materials as well as refrigerated trucks to meet all federal and regional regulations and keep products within a specified temperature window while in transit.

Many products must be kept within a certain temperature range in shipping in order to maintain their freshness, texture, or potency. Examples of products that need cold shipping include:

  • Produce, perishable foods, chocolate, etc.
  • Flowers and plants
  • Pharmaceutical products

What Is Climate Control in Trucking?

Climate control in trucking refers to the use of temperature-controlled trucks to maintain the cold supply chain while products are being moved from one place to another.

Typically, this means the use of refrigerated trucks and trailers (sometimes referred to as “reefers”). Refrigerated trailers have extra-thick walls packed with insulation and built-in refrigeration systems.

Although refrigerated trailers are the most common form of temperature-controlled shipping, climate-controlled trucks operate at a range of different temperatures, from deep freeze (down to −319°F) for some pharmaceuticals all the way up to ambient temperatures (59°F to 77°F) for goods that don’t need refrigeration but can’t be allowed to get too warm.

Cold chain shipping also uses specialized temperature-controlled packaging and packing materials, including insulated boxes or crates, cold packs, dry ice, and liquid nitrogen.

Why Is Climate-Controlled Shipping Important?

Climate-controlled shipping is vital to preserving many products while they’re in transit. Of course, excess heat in transport means that flowers wilt, ice cream melts, and meat and milk spoil. When shipping temperatures vary by even one or two degrees outside the required range, outbreaks of bacterial food-borne illnesses like listeria and salmonella can result.

Many high-value pharmaceutical products also require temperature-sensitive shipping. Traditional drugs manufactured from chemicals (e.g., Tylenol or Benadryl) are usually not temperature sensitive, but many newer pharmaceuticals, called biologics, are derived from living organisms or tissues.

Biologics and medical products like hemoglobin, insulin, and vaccines must be kept within a specific shipping temperature range, usually 36°F–46°F (2°C–8°C). This means not only must they be kept below the top of the temperature range; they also have to be kept above the bottom of the temperature range. In other words, they can be ruined either by excess heat or by freezing.

If products are spoiled in transit, there’s obviously a financial loss. If you’re a shipper, that also means unhappy customers. With pharmaceutical transport, the stakes are even higher: The products are expensive and patients are relying on them for perhaps life-saving treatment. This highlights the importance of temperature-controlled transport.

Risks of Temperature-Controlled Trucks

Drivers that work with temperature-controlled freight have more responsibility than simply transporting goods from point A to point B. They need a thorough understanding of safe food handling practices, sanitation, and how to load and deliver temperature-sensitive products properly. 

They also need to know how the refrigeration systems in their trucks work so that they can carry out pre-trip inspections and respond properly when system sensors indicate equipment problems.

Below are some of the challenges in temperature-controlled shipping.

  • Loading and unloading: This may require temperature-controlled docks or efficient practices so items don’t sit outside of temperature-controlled storage for too long.
  • Equipment function: Any issues with truck or trailer refrigerator systems can jeopardize a temperature-controlled delivery.
  • Temperature extremes: Summer heat in the southern states and winter cold in the north put climate-controlled containers to the test. Minimizing shipping time can help shippers deal with weather-related challenges.

The Role of Route and Load Planning in Temperature-Controlled Transport

If you’re a shipper, you know route and load planning are critical aspects of your business—and that’s even more true when you’re shipping temperature-sensitive items.

Efficient routes mean less risk to temperature-sensitive items in transit. Syntelic’s dynamic Route Planning software factors in constantly shifting information to generate optimized routes for anything from simple outbound delivery runs to drop-n-picks and multi-day team runs. A dispatch planning feature facilitates efficient use of your human resources and factors in hours-of-service constraints.

The Route Planning application integrates tightly with Syntelic’s Transportation Analytics software, incorporating additional information that can help make your operation more efficient, like out-of-route miles, over-long deliveries, speeding miles, and braking patterns.

Poorly loaded goods often result in over, short, and damaged (OS&D) deliveries. Inefficient loading and unloading can end up breaking the cold chain and ruining temperature-sensitive items. 

Syntelic’s Load Planning software accounts for a multitude of truck- and cargo-related constraints to generate load diagrams that meet weight requirements, protect products while in transit, and facilitate easy delivery when drivers reach their destinations.

Minimizing Time in Transit

When you use Syntelic’s Route Planning software to optimize your climate-controlled deliveries, you minimize the risk to temperature-sensitive cargo by minimizing time in transit.

Properly Packing Cargo

There are a number of benefits to using Syntelic’s Load Planning software to generate load diagrams for your temperature-controlled trucks, including:

  • Shorter loading and unloading times
  • Optimal use of each truckload in terms of space and weight
  • Goods loaded in the proper compartments for their temperature requirements
  • Orders sequenced properly for delivery, every time
  • Fewer OS&D complaints
  • Compliance with FDA food-handling regulations

Prioritizing Sensitive Freight

You can also use Syntelic’s Route Planning and Load Planning software to prioritize the delivery of the most sensitive freight in each truckload.

Types of Temperature-Controlled Shipping

There are several different levels of temperature-controlled shipping: deep freeze (−319°F), frozen (−13°F to 14°F), refrigerated (36°F to 46°F), and ambient (59°F to 77°F). These levels correspond to the temperature requirements of various products.

Options for Temperature-Controlled Containers

There are many options for temperature-controlled containers, including:

  • Small refrigerated or frozen box trucks
  • Large refrigerated or frozen trailers
  • Insulated trailers
  • Goods in specialized temperature-controlled packaging (e.g., insulated boxes with dry ice)

Temperature Control FAQ

Here are some answers to common questions about temperature-controlled shipping.

What Is the Cold Chain and When Does It Break?

The cold chain is the logistics supply chain for transporting temperature-sensitive products like refrigerated and frozen foods, produce, flowers and plants, and pharmaceutical products—from cold storage in a vendor warehouse all the way to customer fridges and freezers.

The cold chain is broken when the ambient temperature anywhere in the cold chain is outside (above or below) the temperature range considered safe for the products in question. Breaks in the cold chain result in spoiled products—which, for shippers, means rejected orders or loads.

Are Refrigerator Trucks the Same Size as Regular Trucks?

The outside dimensions of refrigerator trucks are typically the same as those of regular trucks. However, a reefer will have less interior capacity than a regular truck with the same dimensions because its walls are thicker to accommodate extra insulation and refrigeration equipment. 

In addition, added insulation and equipment make a refrigerated truck heavier than a regular truck of the same size and, therefore, unable to carry as much weight as the regular truck.

How Long Can Refrigerated Trucks Keep Cargo Cold?

Refrigerated trucks with independently powered refrigeration systems can keep cargo cold indefinitely. However, because weather extremes put stress on truck refrigeration systems and because of the extra fuel needed to power refrigeration systems, it pays to minimize time in transit.

Syntelic Trucking Software Factors in Temperature-Controlled Shipping

Syntelic’s Route Planning, Load Planning, and Transportation Analytics software maximize the efficiency of your temperature-controlled shipping. When you consistently deliver climate-controlled freight on time and at the right temperature, you earn customer trust and loyalty and maintain your profitability.

Our software implementations aren’t one size fits all; rather, they’re tailored to the needs of your specific temperature-controlled shipping business. We provide both initial training for your personnel and ongoing, on-demand support. 

Contact Syntelic today to discuss your load and route planning needs and to learn more about how Syntelic can benefit your temperature-controlled shipping operations.