Reefer Maintenance Never Looked This Cool
Teheala Shiff, ZIM Maintenance & Repair Department Manager
If you’ve entered the frozen aisle of the grocery store, you’d see a selection of food items from all over the world, but have you ever wondered how they made their way to the shelves?
Shipping containers are the most advanced solution and have become an essential part of global exports by providing safe transport opportunities. Refrigerated containers are no exception. From fruits, vegetables, and chocolates to meat products, pharmaceuticals and even vaccines, reefer transportation is one of the fastest-growing areas in the industry, making it possible to carry temperature-sensitive and frozen goods across the oceans.
Spending most of their lifetime out in the open, reefers travel thousands of miles, exposed to the elements and unforeseen circumstances. But despite recent innovation and upgrades entering the cold chain industry, reefers can be subject to malfunctions for various reasons, and at any stage of their journey. Container maintenance and repair (M&R) is therefore crucial to ensure the continuous and steady flow of the operation, especially when preserving the freshness and original condition of the cargo.
Looking After the Reefers’ Every Move
The M&R department supports all aspects of the supply chain, closely cooperating with various functions in the organization, like commercial, logistics and insurance, to ensure that all reefer construction and maintenance is properly executed.
Frequent reefer inspection and maintenance take up a vital part of the cold-chain operation, especially during their construction phase. A reefer’s M&R process is carried out by experienced surveyors appointed by the department, who provide daily reports and guarantee that no errors occur in the process. Teheala Shiff, ZIM’s M&R Department Manager explains, “This is a machine, and it needs to be the most efficient and reliable one, and to be maintained according to our requirements.”
Reefers require extra care considering the sensitive nature of the cargo and its value. The M&R department carefully examines the containers according to several fundamental guidelines including the latest international ISO safety standards, and the ZIM standard protocol, which has become a common concept among various departments, as well as manufacturers and suppliers in the field. From the first welding to the last paint layer, this team makes sure that all reefers carrying perishables are built to give the best solution.
Predicting the extent of the damage that may occur is also a challenge and therefore it is essential to draw up a maintenance program including inspection activities and preventative investigations from the get-go all the way to the final discharge of the cargo. As such, before the reefer is handed over to the customer, it must enter a depot for an external inspection also known as a Pre-Trip Inspection (PTI). This is a mandatory procedure executed by a dedicated team of qualified technicians, who guarantee that all parameters are running smoothly. Teheala adds, “As far as we’re concerned, there won’t be a single container that will fail the PTI.”
It's no surprise that the world of supply chain was greatly affected by COVID-19. From the M&R perspective, the production and supply of spare parts was certainly the most challenging, but the team made this a priority, even if it meant adjusting the route along the way. Reefers on board are all accommodated with an appropriate set of equipment and checked by the vessel crew at least twice a day to oversee any temperature deviation. The vessel is also equipped with spare parts, so that if a malfunction occurs on board, it will be dealt with right away. At ZIM, special equipment maintenance is achieved during off-season, eventually being able to have the equipment ready well in advance before the high season begins.
There Are No Shortcuts in Our Line of Business
When it comes to Controlled Atmosphere containers, precise temperature, air exchange and ventilation play key roles. Most reefers are also equipped with an activated tracking system to closely monitor the cargo’s state at any point of its journey. Prior to stuffing the reefer, the local M&R department are given relevant training, the right equipment, and exact regulatory procedures for supervising the specific cargo at hand. But like any other machine, even the most advanced reefers may be exposed to errors, potentially endangering the cargo. This is why a big part of preventative maintenance is knowing when and how to successfully intervene.
Here is an example: A reefer had just arrived in Korea after a long, eventless journey, when all of a sudden, customs open its doors for inspection. At first glance, this may seem like a general formality and for a dry container, there is no reason for concern. But for a reefer carrying sensitive cargo, this may be a breaking point.
It turns out this specific container was loaded with fresh blueberries, a product which must be transported under carefully monitored conditions as these fruits are extremely delicate and sensitive to drastic changes of temperature. Opening the door became a crucial issue and there was no time to waste.
Fortunately, this reefer was well equipped with an alert tracking system which was immediately activated, warning relevant personnel on the ground. As soon as the M&R received the call, it was their responsibility. The department instantly contacted local technicians who discharged nitrogen in the container to ensure the fruit remain intact. Not only did the customer pick up the cargo within just a few hours but was able to withstand the next 15-hour journey ahead.
The M&R team is always observing and searching for new improvements in an effort to deliver the most advanced results, emphasizing the cargo’s safety. At the end of the day, the world’s reefers carry almost everything we buy and put in our homes. As Teheala says, “An important part of the puzzle is catching everything ahead of time, even if there is no damage to the cargo, but something just doesn’t look right.”