It’s the kind of common-sense detail that you kick yourself for not having thought of before. But for everyone who has decided where to arrange their desk based on the position of the air conditioner vent, it’s intuitive — not everywhere in the room is the same temperature. That goes for any room — especially a big room like warehouse space.
In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, warehouse space has boomed, especially last-mile warehouse space to accommodate the surge in demand for delivery of goods. Many investors and retailers find themselves warehouse owners for the first time, participants in a booming eCommerce economy. This may mean learning about temperature mapping for the first time.
Temperature mapping is a quality assurance best practice that entails making a detailed map of relative temperatures within an enclosed space. Understanding which parts of your warehouse are warmer or colder than others can help you make a plan of what sensitive materials to store where, as well as plan adjustments to the climate control system to stabilize the temperature throughout the facility.
Even experienced warehouse owners should revisit temperature mapping, especially if they operate in — or want to offer storage solutions for — a heavily regulated industry like pharmaceuticals, medical devices, or the food industry.
Consider the most prominent example of the present era. As the world engages in the largest mass vaccination campaign in history, the different storage-temperature requirements of the various COVID-19 vaccines present a logistical problem that compliant warehouse owners could profit by solving.
As Dickson notes here, some FDA-regulated industries face specific requirements around temperature mapping. These requirements apply to their storage solutions, even if they contract a third-party warehouse.
Here’s what you need to know about temperature mapping.
1. Temperature Mapping Can Protect Perishable Assets
If the first rule of medicine is “do no harm,” the first rule of warehouse management should be “damage no assets.” Some breakage and spoilage is inevitable, but if you routinely fail to protect assets in storage, it defeats the entire purpose of the warehouse industry.
Many products that require storage have exacting temperature requirements. If they become overheated or too cold, the products can become damaged or spoil. Batteries could lose potency, wood could warp, food could spoil, medications could lose potency–the list goes on.
Temperature mapping is a crucial first line of defense in protecting perishable assets in storage. By knowing ahead of time that one nook of your warehouse tends to be hot, while one cranny of your warehouse tends to be cold, you can make a storage plan that not only accounts for temperature differentials but embraces them.
Assets that require cooler storage can be stored in colder corners of the facility, products that require warmer storage can be stored in warmer corners of the facility. Non-perishable assets can be stored wherever space becomes available.
If your assets require a uniform storage temperature, temperature mapping can help you create a plan to stabilize the temperature by adding chillers, heaters, or HVAC vents close to positions of differential temperature, as well as compartmentalized climate control to add more or less temperature to a portion of the warehouse.
2. Temperature Mapping May Be Required for Regulatory Compliance
Temperature mapping is more than just a best practice for many industries — it is a matter of regulatory compliance. Food, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices come with particularly stiff regulatory burdens from agencies like the FDA since the products can easily hurt consumers or hinder healing if they become compromised.
Even if you didn’t intend to provide warehousing solutions for heavily-regulated industries, it may be a lucrative opportunity in the future. If you can offer FDA-compliant facilities, it could significantly expand your customer base.
3. Temperature Mapping Usually Requires Multiple Strategically-Placed Data Loggers
So how do you discover the ambient temperature of a large space like a warehouse? One thermostat obviously won’t cut it.
The best and most fundamental tool in the temperature mapping toolkit is the digital data logger. This is a small device that can be installed in a fixed position and record ambient conditions, like temperature, over time.
A digital data logger consists of three parts:
- The sensor — a thermometer in the case of a temperature data logger.
- The processor — a chip that interprets the input from the sensor and writes the data on a storage drive.
- The storage drive — a data drive where the data gets recorded and time-stamped.
A digital data logger also requires a battery or power connector and may include a USB download connection, possibly a WiFi card for Cloud-connected IoT data loggers.
Of course, one of the characteristics of the digital data logger is that it is small and kept in a fixed position — so it can only create a record of the ambient temperature for one position in the warehouse. For a large warehouse, this isn’t nearly enough.
Instead, temperature mapping requires multiple data loggers in key positions throughout the warehouse. Any portion of the space where perishable goods could be stored will need its own data logger. Pay special attention to:
- Vertical space. Hot air rises, so the rafters of a warehouse may be warmer than the floor.
- Electronic or mechanical equipment. Equipment can generate extra heat in its vicinity.
- Exterior Access. Windows, doorways, and other sources of exterior ventilation can chill areas in three seasons and add heat in the summer.
4. Temperature Mapping Is Not a One-Time Activity
Temperature mapping is not a once-and-done proposition. Consider that the warehouse will probably fluctuate in temperature throughout the year, simply with the changing of the seasons. In regions with extreme seasonal climate shifts, the temperature map can change drastically.
For this reason, a warehouse owner should plan to perform temperature mapping at several strategic times of the year. Additionally, a new temperature mapping audit may be required at regular intervals to maintain regulatory compliance.
While temperature mapping may not be required in some verticals of the warehousing industry, warehouse owners should strongly consider it. It is a best practice whether or not organizations like the FDA require it. For companies that work in heavily-regulated industries, however, it is probably not optional. And for warehouse owners who want to provide storage solutions to companies in heavily-regulated industries, it could be a lucrative opportunity to expand your customer base.