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In conversation with Attie Lubbe: challenges of cold chain logistics

By John Ackermann

Attie Lubbe, director at Sequence Logistics, shares his insights on the industry and the challenges of starting a new fleet from scratch.

From being a university graduate in agriculture, Attie Lubbe is now a director at Sequence Logistics, a specialist supply chain service provider in temperature-controlled industry. Before Lubbe joined Sequence Logistics in 2014, the company relied on subcontractors for transporting goods. With Lubbe’s extensive experience in refrigerated transport, he soon brought wheels into the company. The fleet of vehicles consists of refrigerated 30-pallet tri-axle semi-trailers and refrigerated rigids, all with Thermo King refrigeration units and Mercedes Benz prime movers. Partnerships with carefully selected suppliers are done to ensure the best cost of ownership and minimal downtime.

Sequence Logistics was established in 1998 as a frozen storage provider to the general market.

“Refrigerated transport is a tough market, and starting a new fleet from scratch in the face of strong competition was a daunting challenge,” explains Lubbe. “The only advantage that we had was a contract with Nature’s Garden for the national transport of all their products. About 90% of all our loads are frozen products and of the volumes now transported, only 34% (by volume) is for Nature’s Garden.”

In speaking to Lubbe, his passion for refrigerated transport and service levels in the cold chain industry becomes evident.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture in Bloemfontein in 1986, Lubbe worked in the laboratory of NCD in Kimberley. When the transport manager went on leave, Lubbe deputised and acquired a taste for transport. The interest in transport grew and he established a depot for Jowells Transport in Kimberley, later moving to Barkly West where he joined Kelrn Transport in 1992. The Imperial Group bought the company and he was later transferred to Centurion to manage the Fast ‘n Fresh contract with Woolworths.

He goes on to explain, “To be successful in the logistics and distribution of temperature sensitive product requires high levels of service and a cold chain culture among all staff, from top management to staff on the ground in loading and receiving bays. Minimum delays in moving product from one controlled temperature environment to another are of utmost importance. All our clients now demand real time reporting on the location and state of their load, even when on time and on temperature. Our operating staff is even able to advise the night before if any load is going to be late the next day.”

Sequence Logistics has low temperature storage for 12 000 pallets in City Deep, 11 000 in Hammersdale, and 5 000 in Cape Town. The company also does the distribution for Boxer Superstores weekly to 154 outlets nationally. With their service levels, Sequence Logistics has met the high standards for the local distribution of Häagen-Dazs ice cream for General Mills South Africa. Reliable equipment, experienced staff, and a commitment to cold chain principles drive service levels.

“We have good relations with our major equipment suppliers such as Mercedes Benz, Thermo King (GEA) and African Bodies. They all understand our operation and our requirements, and are quick to respond to our needs, be it a breakdown, repair, or new equipment,” says Lubbe. “The time taken for repairs is critical to our operation, as we do not have spare vehicles. Each rig has a thorough check every six months and any body damage between these checks is attended to with stick on patches. My personal dealings with Frans van Vianen at African Bodies and Franscois van der Westhuizen at Thermo King (GEA) goes back many years and we enjoy good support from them.”

The company’s trailers all have aluminium floors for durability and ducting to improve air distribution and temperature control.

“It is interesting to note that nearly all clients require the refrigeration units to be set at -25°C, even though the product is only at -20°C. Setting temperatures at lower levels unfortunately increases diesel consumption,” says Lubbe.

Waiting time at public cold stores and supermarkets also adds to diesel usage, explains Lubbe. Most public cold stores operate a five-day week and a limited few will operate until 22:00. “Outside these times, our vehicles have to stand and wait with the refrigeration unit running to maintain temperature — a total waste of energy,” says Lubbe. On average, the vehicles wait between three and six hours beyond their allotted times for loading and unloading. “An industry change would certainly be a major step towards reducing the use of diesel and improving the carbon footprint of refrigerated transport in South Africa,” says Lubbe.

“Our business is about moving product at the correct temperature and delivered on time. The pastries that we distribute for a Johannesburg client is highly temperature sensitive and if allowed to increase in temperature, the product starts to rise and is rejected.”

All units are fitted with data management systems, which allow real-time viewing of temperature performance via mobile phone networks. The delivery and return air temperatures are good indications and quickly indicate any malfunctioning, which the team can then respond to. The same data monitors store the data that has to be kept for three months.

In closing, Lubbe was positive about the SABS chamber under construction to test the thermal performance of insulated vehicle bodies.

“The chamber will certainly be an asset to South Africa and will be of great value to operators like ourselves in assessing the thermal performance of aged vehicles,” said Lubbe. “The chamber will provide an accurate assessment of the thermal performance on new and old bodies. At present it is all guesswork; yet, of such importance for proper temperature control and minimising diesel usage.”


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