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Cold-chain logistics: the key role of the WMS in temperature-controlled warehouses

Cold-chain logistics is a feature of many sectors and industries, especially pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, food, chemicals, and medical laboratories, all of which require goods to be stored and transported at low temperatures. A warehouse management system (WMS) addresses the challenges of cold-storage or temperature-controlled warehouses in terms of meeting stringent safety, quality control, and traceability standards, while at the same time delivering operational performance gains.

The main challenges of cold-chain logistics

Cold-chain logistics poses a number of challenges, not least when it comes to meeting regulatory standards and requirements. Although these vary from one product type and sector to the next, they can be summarized as follows:

  • Temperature management: chilled and frozen food products, some pharmaceutical products, cosmetics, chemicals, and biological samples all need to be transported in temperature-controlled trucks and stored in cold-storage warehouses. Failing that, their quality could be affected, or they could even be rendered unfit for consumption.
  • Expiration date management: it’s essential to manage use-by dates, best-before dates, and date contracts, especially for perishable goods such as food, medicines, and cosmetics.
  • Product safety: products need to remain compliant with applicable safety and quality standards, and must pose no risk to the health of consumers.
  • Product traceability: traceability needs to be maintained all along the cold chain, from production and storage through to transportation, so that quick action can be taken if a problem arises.
  • Cost control: operating temperature-controlled logistics facilities in order to adhere to cold-chain requirements implies a significant investment. Logistics experts are therefore constantly looking for ways to boost productivity and protect their margins.

WMS software: an answer to the challenges of cold-chain logistics

A WMS software optimizes every aspect of warehouse management, from the receipt and storage of incoming goods, through to outgoing shipment. In cold-chain logistics settings, it ensures that products are stored and transported in appropriate conditions, provides real-time visibility of stored products, and guarantees full traceability of all goods moves and tasks performed. And that’s not all, because it also optimizes storage space and reduces the operational costs of different logistics flows.

 

Maintaining an unbroken cold chain

Keeping the cold chain intact is a top priority for supply-chain operators and logistics experts. WMS software plays a key role in avoiding the risk of a broken cold chain by keeping constant tabs on temperatures and triggering alerts and remedial action if thresholds are exceeded or if anomalies occur.

 

Providing full, real-time traceability

A WMS system maintains a documented record of all logistics flows and supports full traceability of all tasks performed in the warehouse, along with related batch numbers, from receipt through to shipment. This feature is especially useful—and important—during batch recalls.

 

Managing expiration dates and date contracts

In temperature-controlled warehouses, the WMS is a valuable ally in monitoring expiration dates for perishable goods, as well as for:

  • Managing use-by and best-before dates, and triggering alerts when these limits are exceeded.
  • Managing date contracts, and checking that goods are received and shipped before a given deadline.
  • Managing batches, which ties in closely with expiration-date management.
  • Applying stock rotation rules such as first-in, first-out (FIFO) and first-expired, first-out (FEFO).
  • Optimizing stock levels by avoiding the overstocking of short-shelf-life products.

 

Transportation management

Warehouse management software has another key feature that helps cold-chain logistics operators keep a lid on their costs and reduce their environmental impact: transportation management. Using advanced algorithms, this feature compares carrier prices, optimizes load grouping, and maximizes truck fill rates. At a time of rising energy costs, this capability offers the potential to protect margins.

 

Logistics performance and warehouse automation

Last but not least, cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and process automation can provide an all-important performance boost for cold-chain logistics operators. Warehouse automation delivers impressive gains on a number of fronts, especially in terms of productivity, operational efficiency, and safety in the handling of products. The warehouse management system once again plays a central role, since it manages the various mechanized systems and robots deployed at logistics sites, such as:

  • Stacker cranes and conveyors, which transport pallets, boxes, and products between different areas of the warehouse.
  • The voice picking system, which assists picking operators in temperature-controlled warehouses, where gloves can make it harder to operate hand-held devices.
  • Picking robots, which collect products from storage locations and transport them to picking zones.
  • Mobile racks, which are used to store low- and medium-rotation products in freezer rooms.
  • Motorized shuttles, which speed up restocking and shipping operations.

In temperature-controlled warehouses, combining a WMS with automated systems fundamentally alters the role of operators, relieving them of the burden of repetitive handling tasks and allowing them to refocus their efforts on exception management and quality control.

Reflex: a WMS with a proven track record in cold-chain logistics

Building on 30 years of R&D, our Reflex WMS warehouse management system optimizes processes all along the cold chain, giving businesses in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics, food, chemicals, and medical laboratory sectors a genuine competitive edge. For instance, customers such as Laboratoires Boiron and Cémoi use our application in their warehouses.