Shipping is a much more involved process than what consumers see when an item lands at their door. Proper storage, packaging, and care and handling of goods all play a vital role. In fact, a good shipment is all about quality control, as improperly shipped or handled items have the potential to arrive damaged, broken, or spoiled.
While the principles of proper shipping are largely common sense, there are many ways to handle different products. For goods such as electronics, for example, temperature control is vital but something that may not be top of mind.
Why temperature controlled shipping isn't just for food
Temperature control is crucial to ensuring that some products arrive in pristine, brand-new condition. Just as ice cream won't be edible if shipped at any temperature other than 20 degrees below zero, electronics need to be shipped within a certain temperature range in order to arrive in working condition. Generally speaking, electronics need to remain at average room temperature – between 50 and 75 degrees – to make sure that batteries don't melt and electronic casings don't overheat. Ideally, larger electronics like computers are shipped and stored at 72 degrees.
As with food products, it is imperative that electronics aren't shipped in too cold of an environment, so as not to freeze the batteries or crack the casings. The consequences of not preparing electronics equipment for temperature and moisture control often leads to unhappy customers getting a shiny, new piece of technology that doesn't work.
Packaging the product for shipping
While electronics manufacturers often have no control over their products once they've shipped, they do have control over how they are packaged. The majority of electronics are shipped from overseas, with materials for something like even a simple iPhone sourced from over a dozen separate countries and constructed and shipped from China.
Because of this, most electronics are shipped initially on an airplane, and then over land via truck. This means the packaging from the manufacturer must be extremely versatile and durable [while maintaining brand aesthetics]. You may have noticed that the box an iPhone comes in is completely airtight and tough, with little if any flexibility.
You may have also noticed a small tea-bag looking packet included in the bottom of many products. This is a silica gel to control humidity, which can be just as damaging to the product as sudden fluctuations in temperature. In addition, manufacturers design cases that can withstand significant drops, jostling and rough handling without losing any of their aesthetic qualities. A product may go from traveling via air freight to resting on a pallet in the same day, so the packaging needs to be able to withstand any sort of handling in addition to helping regulate the temperature of the contents.
How can supply chain managers prepare shipments?
While the shipping process may be out of the control of the manufacturers, it is not out of the hands of the supply chain managers, who have control and visibility into multiple aspects of the shipping process. A successful shipment begins with knowing your partners. If you are working with carriers, you need to understand exactly what their specialty is. If possible, go visit a carrier's facilities to see first-hand their container equipment and to make sure it is set at the right temperature and that the humidity and moisture can be controlled. Also visit the loading/unloading area to see the products coming on and off the trucks, how they are being handled and whether they are on the proper vehicles to begin with.
It is not enough to try to check this online. The supply chain manager needs to inspect the storage facilities to make sure they are set at the proper temperature and to ensure that the goods will not be damaged due to improper overnight storage. Lastly, check the security of the carrier to make sure the physical location has a guard on site and surveillance cameras in place, which are crucial to avoiding theft and other damage.
Technology to help in the temperature controlled journey
Software that provides visibility into the entire shipment at every point along its journey is key to the shipment of electronics. Knowing the outside temperature at any particular point in time allows for internal temperatures to be set, which can then be monitored from your supply chain software solutions. Additionally, the supply chain manager will be able to note temperature requirements in routing guides to make sure electronics are only placed in insulated vans or reefers, depending on the method of transport. Through the right software platform, supply managers can see if a product is being incorrectly shipped or handled and adjust course as needed. Having a robust carrier network with access to multiple carriers outside of the ones you normally do business with provides additional flexibility to get your temperature controlled shipments right.
Safely shipping electronics is no different than shipping perishables or even fine china – it is all about smart planning – from the packaging and shipment methods to the storage and handling. Once a seamless process is created, it can be executed over and over again to get electronic equipment to the right people, on time and in perfect condition. Sound impossible? With the right software solutions in place, it is not.