Preparing Your Cold Weather Shipments
The winter months are a time of festive celebrations, stunning snowy landscapes, and a whole host of dangers, delays, and unwanted surprises for the logistics industry. As with other adverse weather conditions, a combination of preparedness and flexibility is the key to surviving and thriving during the winter shipping season.
You’ll need to be aware of the specific needs of each shipment and prepare accordingly, be aware of alternative routes, stay on top of the forecast, and allow room for minor delays and changes. The steps needed to weather-proof your business against the winter months can be broken down into two main categories.
These categories consist of preparing the shipments themselves, as well as creating a flexible schedule with alternatives and safeguards for those shipments.
Preparing Your Cold Weather Shipments
First things first, check over the Bill of Lading (BOL) to be sure of the acceptable temperature range for a particular shipment and to see if there are any special instructions for cold-weather shipping. Some goods will just need to stay above freezing, while others will need to stay within a certain range. For instance, food and other perishables, cosmetics, paints, and glue usually require a specific temperature range.
For the more sensitive shipments, you’ll want to use trucks and containers that have internal temperature controls or at least insulation in the walls.
As for all shipments, you can help regulate the temperature by:
- Using insulate packing materials. There are many choices of packing material and all will have some value as insulation; the choice will depend largely on budget, space, available time, mode of transport, and the temperature requirements of the shipment. For instance, perishable food items require different care than medicine that needs to be kept within a specific range. Popular choices include thermal bubble wrap, expanded polystyrene foam, polyurethane, phase change material, and vacuum-insulated panels. You should be able to find out the “R Values” of available packing materials from the suppliers; a higher value provides more insulation and thus keeps off more of the cold. Certain goods may have regulatory requirements regarding proper cold-weather packing material, so be sure to check if in doubt.
- Wrapping the boxes or goods in blankets. This can keep off some of the cold and may at least help prevent freezing.
- Placing boxes and goods on pallets. The air cushion between the material and the floor will provide some insulation, and help prevent the cold floor from lowering the temperature of the goods.
- Keeping sensitive materials away from the walls of the truck or container. This is not always possible, but if parts of the shipment are more sensitive than others, consider moving those toward the center of the container or truck.
For winter shipments, it can be risky to set the carrier schedule in stone far in advance of shipping time. On the other hand, you don’t want to be stuck with a deadline and no carrier availability.
Follow the steps below to help minimize the risk.
- Add extra time to the delivery schedule and provide a realistic budget. Allow for potential last-minute route changes due to road closures, unsafe conditions, and slowdowns. Cold weather road issues might not only cause delays but can also increase fuel costs, especially if it means you’ll need to use alternate routes.
- Stay on top of weather conditions and predictions. A good logistics software with forecasting ability may have live weather data built-in; if you’re using a logistics software service, check to see what it provides and what it does not. If cold weather issues are going to regularly affect your routes, consider investing in a subscription-based weather reporting and forecasting service, especially one with strong data on road closures and unsafe driving conditions.
- Have a backup. Anything can happen, and in case of a worst-case scenario, you’ll want to be prepared. However, if you’re working with a third-party logistics (3PL) provider, find out what precautions, safeguards, alternatives, and guarantees they offer. Have a list of alternative carriers on hand for your routes just in case your first-choice provider experiences an unacceptable delay or cancellation. Beyond that, be aware of alternate routes and modes of transport that can be called on in case the preferred routes and methods are not unavailable at the last minute.
- Communicate with your partners. Of course, you don’t want to schedule a January shipment in August only to have an unexpected freeze get your shipment. By the same token, however, your carriers don’t want to deal with waiting for a last-minute confirmation during adverse weather conditions. Explain your needs and concerns to them, and find out what the acceptable window is for confirmation of the shipment.
Getting Those Cold Weather Shipments out the Door
Cold weather shipments face issues that are inherently unpredictable but you can be better-prepared before the cold season arrives. By knowing your needs and expecting the unexpected, though, you can reduce the risk.
Know the temperature-specific needs of each shipment. Address them by choosing the right carrier and packing material, and keeping the goods away from cold surfaces.
Also, try not to lock yourself into a time frame and budget without sufficient room for delays and route changes. Know how much flexibility you have by maintaining open communication with your partners. Prepare alternative routes, carriers, and modes of transport.
And finally, use the best available technology at your disposal to be aware of road closures, delays, and weather forecasting.