Transportation of perishable commodities like fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, or medicines requires proper preservation. Hence the need for reefers (refrigerated containers) that can keep the cargo at a consistent temperature and humidity level.
These devices may be used for both land and sea transportation, however, in this article, we will concentrate on offshore reefer containers which are deployed for maritime freight.
For the most part, these specialised offshore reefer containers are susceptible to poor weather, mechanical failures, cargo damage, theft, or delays. As such, it is therefore critical to plan and optimise reefer container loading to overcome such problems and ensure a smooth and successful delivery.
Importance of load planning and optimisation
Load planning and optimisation is the process of methodically arranging and organising the cargo inside the reefer container in the most efficient and effective way possible. It has several benefits for both shippers and customers, such as:
- Improved operational efficiency and cost reduction: By optimising the load distribution and utilisation of the reefer container, one can reduce the number of containers required, save on fuel consumption and transportation costs, and avoid unnecessary handling and storage fees.
- Enhanced cargo safety and security: Proper load planning ensures that the cargo is stowed securely, minimising the risk of damage during transit. It also facilitates efficient handling and reduces the chances of theft or tampering.
- Increased load capacity and utilisation: By allocating space based on cargo volume and dimensions, one can maximise the use of the available space in the reefer container and fit more cargo inside. By optimising load distribution for stability and safety, one can also avoid wasting space or creating gaps between the cargo that can cause shifting or falling during transportation.
- Minimised environmental impact: By reducing the number of containers required, fuel consumption, and transportation costs, one can also reduce the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions associated with their shipment. By preventing spoilage or damage to the cargo, one can also reduce food waste and environmental pollution.
- Improved customer satisfaction and service quality: Accurate load planning ensures that goods arrive at their destination in optimal condition, meeting customer expectations and enhancing overall service quality.
How do you load a reefer container?
Below are five actionable suggestions to help you appropriately pack your reefer container so that you may take advantage of all the benefits that it offers.
- The precooling of goods and commodities: The items that are going to be delivered need to have a particular amount of time spent precooling them before they are put into the reefer container. This ensures that they have the ideal temperature when they are placed inside.
In that case, the product’s temperature and the container’s temperature might not mesh well, which would result in a higher temperature inside the container. As a consequence, it can potentially ruin the products and cause problems for your company.
- Products with a short shelf life: It is imperative to use a reefer container with a climate control system, especially if the items being transported are extremely perishable or have a short shelf life. This is because climate control systems help automatically regulate the CO2 and oxygen levels within a reefer unit.
- Maintaining full control of the container conditions: Prior to loading the container, it is of the utmost importance to check if the container is in pristine shape to ensure it doesn’t fail in any of its functions. For example, you can check if the setting of the temperature is at the appropriate level.
- Distributing the load properly: The items have to be loaded evenly in order to have an optimal flow of air and temperature. They also have to cover all of the ground in areas where there are air vents while leaving the front and back sides vacant (because such areas do not have air vents).
In addition, the containers must have openings in them so that air can circulate inside. There must not be any space between the pallets since doing so causes turbulence in the air and disrupts the normal flow of air through the area. Last but not least, ensure the load does not exceed the red line, indicating the maximum height the container can accommodate.
- Documentation: Industry experts strongly advise that you have all the necessary documentation before shipping the products because some documents may take too much time to prepare for these types of loads.
Load planning process
The load planning process involves several steps that require careful analysis and decision-making. Here are some of the main steps involved in the load planning process:
- Determining cargo compatibility and segregation requirements: The first step in load planning is to assess the compatibility of different types of cargo and determine any segregation requirements. Some perishable goods may have specific storage or handling requisites that must be considered to avoid contamination or damage. Segregating incompatible cargo helps ensure the integrity and quality of each shipment.
- Defining weight and balance considerations: To maintain stability and safety during transportation, it is crucial to define weight and balance considerations. Furthermore, distribute the weight evenly within the reefer container to prevent accidents or shifting of cargo. A well-balanced load minimises the risk of container tipping or structural damage, ensuring a smooth journey.
- Allocating space based on cargo volume and dimensions: Allocate space within the reefer container based on the cargo’s volume and dimensions. Consider the stacking limitations and guidelines provided by the container manufacturer. Efficient space allocation maximises container utilisation, allowing for higher load capacity and reducing shipping costs.
- Optimising load distribution for stability and safety: Optimise load distribution within the reefer container to maintain stability and safety. Heavier items should be placed at the bottom, and lighter or more fragile cargo should be secured on top or in areas where they are less likely to be damaged. Proper load distribution prevents cargo shifting, minimises the risk of damage, and ensures safe transportation.
- Considering temperature control and ventilation needs: For perishable goods, temperature control and ventilation are critical factors. Place temperature-sensitive items strategically within the reefer container to ensure proper airflow and temperature distribution. Proper ventilation prevents the accumulation of moisture or heat, preserving the quality and freshness of the cargo throughout the journey.
- Ensuring compliance with regulatory standards: Compliance with regulatory standards is vital when shipping perishable goods. Carefully consider any specific regulations or restrictions related to the type of cargo being transported, such as hazardous materials or food products. Adhere to these regulations to avoid penalties, delays, and potential safety hazards.
- Documenting and communicating load plans: Thoroughly document the load plan, including cargo details, weight distribution, and any special handling instructions.
Additionally, communicate the load plan effectively to all stakeholders involved in the shipping process, such as warehouse personnel, logistics teams, and shipping agents. Clear Communication ensures everyone understands their roles and responsibilities, minimising errors and ensuring a smooth operation.
By following these load planning processes, shipping companies can optimise offshore reefer container loading, enhance operational efficiency, and ensure the safe and timely delivery of perishable goods.
Factors influencing load planning
Several factors typically impact the load planning process for offshore reefer containers:
- Container specifications and limitations: Different container types may have specific limitations, such as weight capacity, stackability, and ventilation capabilities, which must be considered during load planning.
- Cargo types and characteristics: The nature and characteristics of the cargo, including its perishability, fragility, and compatibility with other goods, significantly influence the load planning process.
- Regulatory requirements and restrictions: Various regulatory bodies have specific guidelines and restrictions for shipping certain types of cargo, such as pharmaceuticals, chemicals, or food products. Complying with these regulations is essential during load planning.
- Transportation logistics and routes: The chosen transportation logistics and routes impact the load planning process, considering factors such as distance, climate conditions, and transhipment requirements.
- Environmental considerations: Load planning should also take into account environmental factors, such as temperature variations, humidity, and potential exposure to adverse weather conditions.
Best practices for offshore reefer container loading optimisation
To optimise offshore reefer container loading, consider the following best practices:
- Utilise advanced load planning tools and software: Implementing specialised software and tools designed for load planning can significantly streamline the process and enhance efficiency.
- Continuous monitoring and data analysis: Consider monitoring cargo conditions throughout the transportation process by leveraging real-time data and analytics to make informed decisions and detect any deviations.
- Flexibility and adaptability in load planning strategies: Be prepared to adjust load plans as needed, accommodating unexpected changes in cargo volume, routing, or regulatory requirements.
- Integration with other supply chain management systems: Integrate load planning with other supply chain management systems to ensure seamless coordination and optimise overall logistics operations.
All things considered, investing time and effort in thorough load planning and optimisation for offshore reefer containers is an essential aspect of successful perishable goods shipping.
As seen above, effective load planning and optimisation can allow companies to achieve operational excellence and maintain a competitive edge in the market, ultimately contributing to their overall success and growth.
A graduate (Business) from KDU, Jason Tan, is the current Business Director (Sales) for MGS Icestorm and has been associated with the company for the past 10 years.
With over 13 years in the shipping industry, he has had a significant contribution to Malaysia’s oil and gas industry in the engine and boat supply sector.
His expertise includes managing offshore catering business, offshore reefer containers, AI technology, offshore gas tanks, A60 pressurized cabins, etc. His contributions have helped establish MGS, in partnership (joint venture) with Thermo King and Honeywell to produce state of art Offshore Reefer Container products.