Refrigerated Container Technology

Code No: TMS128 Price: Rs1750/- Category: Packaging

1. Scope and Objectives of the Study

The present TMS is categorized as an “update study”. The relevant TMS earlier done by TIFAC is “Containerization Technologies” (TMS no. 079). However, it encompasses the complete scope of TMS as provided by TIFAC, focusing on one of the very important and specialized segments of containerization technologies, viz. Refrigerated Containers, with its own importance, technological inputs, user profile and potential spin-offs. The present TMS, therefore, after briefly discussing the technological trends in Containerization Technologies for the purpose of updating the TMS, deals with Refrigerated Containers (Also referred to as “reefers”) within the frame work of TMS as given below:

i) Relationship and the importance the specific topic to the broad area to which it belongs (brief).

ii) The current status of the technology in the world and in the country. Market (domestic and export) sizes and their potentials. (Use existing information/reports to the maximum extent possible).

iii) Assessment of the technology, resources parameters such as energy, raw materials, infrastructure, manpower etc. to arrive at the preferred technology options available to the country.

iv) Short term and long term economic aspects of preferred options along with their feasibilities.

v) Impact of the preferred option(s) by itself and its spinoffs.

vi) Recommendations

a) For implementations of preferred technology options identifying critical inputs such as raw materials, capital goods and human resources required and their availability, investments required to commercialize, and benefits/returns expected.
b) For R&D / Technology development identifying the requirement of inputs and expected benefits.

vii) Action Plan for implementation of recommendations along with identification of:

a) List of available technologies for Indian industry and
b) The agencies/ groups /individuals for implementation.
c) Expected impact of recommendations, if implemented

viii) The update reports would focus on all recent developments in technology, market and R&D, and would be read in conjunction with the already completed relevant reports of TIFAC. The update reports are to be made, in the context of already completed relevant reports of TIFCA, and fulfilling up the gaps, if any, in the details addressed in the earlier reports.

2. Importance of the Topic

Exports from developing countries of perishable products have been hampered due to their requiring fairly sophisticated methods of handling and shipment. These products are prone to deterioration with inadequate facilities for transportation to effect shipments to the final consumers in the desired condition. Adoption of refrigerated containers has the potential to alter this, as seen from the examples of various horticulture products exporting countries of the world, including developing countries from South America.

Despite favorable agro-climate conditions. India’s exports of these items have hitherto been quite poor despite great potential. The degree of sophistication required for transportation of these sensitive products to be final markets in the world makes it imperative to adopt the refrigerated container technologies, which enable to reach the product to the final consumer meeting the exacting standards of high value markets.

The potential beneficiaries of refrigerated containers are typically the following industries which need to move perishable products over long distances:

* Food processing
* Horticulture/fruits, juices
* Dairying
* Floriculture
* Marine, fisheries, and aquaculture
* Agriculture
* Meat, poultry etc.

3. Methodology

The methodology followed for data collection (including mail surveys, literature searches, interviews and discussions with experts and policy makers, examination of brochures of international technology and market leaders etc.) is similar to the earlier TMS on Containerization Technologies, discussed below.

For secondary data collection, the study based its findings on the work done and available literature with research and technical institutions, journals and technical papers, published reports of the government and semi-government bodies, voluntary agencies, international bodies. Five Year Plans and perspective plans, expert committee and working group report of relevance, technical literature available in India and abroad.

Primary data was collected by Mail Survey by seeking information through letters addressed to Indian and foreign container and container components manufacturers. Personal interviews were held with expert /policy makers etc. for better insight in to various facets of refrigerated containers.

4. Limitations of the Study

All efforts have been made to cover the field of Refrigerated container technologies, which covers a vast spectrum of modern technologies. However, the following factors should be borne in mind as possible limitations of the report:

* The mail survey responses to our survey have not always been very comprehensive, especially form the Indian industry. To the extent that the relevant technology is largely available abroad, we have, however, been able to get the latest technological information.

* The physical characteristics and market demands of the perishable cargo which mainly use refrigerated containers are critical to determination of the technical parameters of refrigerated containers as also those of transportation and intermodalism of containers. Efforts have been made to adequately cover the aspects of market, product characteristics, and specifics of containerization within the framework of refrigerated containers. These are diverse subjects, with considerable overlap with other applications and technologies. To that extent, in spit of our best efforts, some technological inputs may appear not to have been covered in as much detail as we would have liked to.

5. Major Findings

* Despite favorable agro-climate conditions, India’s exports of perishable items have been quite poor. The degree of sophistication required for transportation of these sensitive products to the final markets in the world makes it essential to adopt the refrigerated container technologies.

There has been substantial increase in the container traffic at Indian ports. Container Corporation of India (CONCOR) has total international containerized cargo handled will reach a level of 3 lakh by 1995-96, and 4 lakh by 1997-98.

* The Pacific Rim countries have now become the driving force of world shipping – especially container shipping, and is likely to intensify its grip in the next decade. The share of Pacific Rim ports’ container throughputs has risen from less than 30% of that of the world in the seventies of 40% in the eighties, and is expected to rise to 47% by the year 200. 11 of the 25 of world’s top container handling ports are located here. There is a substantial increase in the 8 ft. 6in high boxes, almost doubling over the decade 1982-92, becoming six times the numbers of 8 ft. boxes. The boxes of > 9 ft. have shown spectacular growth of almost 700% in the ten year period.

In USA, various important partnerships of rail/transport companies are taking place which has not only strengthened intermodalism, but it features introduction of 48 ft. and 53ft. light weight domestic containers to be operated by such partnerships.

* There are two basic types of reefer containers used in international trade – the insulated box or port hole container, and the plug-in tyre integral refrigerated container. The integral refrigerated container, is considered the unit best suited for trades with underdeveloped or developing countries.

There are two basic types of integral refrigerated containers. The first incorporate a diesel generator unit as a permanent feature. The second relies an outside power source.

* The past few years have seen rapid development of equipment designed to improve temperature monitoring, provide more accurate temperature control, facilitate retrieval of operational data, and automate pre-trip inspections, as a result of the incorporation of microprocessors into the integral reefer units.

The considerable disparity between electrical supplies in different parts of the world presents a constant logistical challenge in planning reefer activities. There is also a great variation in the types of electrical connectors and receptacles used in various parts of the world.

* There are a number of agencies including ISO, concerned withdrawing up specifications and regulations for refrigerated containers, as well as various bodies occupied with the conditions relevant to the carriage of perishable foodstuffs. ISO 1496 covers the Refrigerated containers, more generally called “thermal containers”.

In a port, a suitable holding area needs to be provided for refrigerated containers. Refrigerated containers arriving/leaving a port, loaded with cargo, will need fixed power receptacles (or power packs) to service the maximum quantity of loaded reefers held at any one time.

The handling equipment for refrigerated containers is same a that for general purpose containers. One important aspect which needs to be kept in mind when planning refrigerated container terminal logistics is that these are normally larger and taller boxes.

The transport of reefers by truck or train needs a provision for electricity supply. The two main methods in which power is supplied to a reefer on a road vehicle which is not supplied by its own diesel generator, is by under-slung diesel generating set per a clip-on unit. For reefers being transported by train, electrical power is provided through a fixed or mobile generating unit mounted on a rail-car.

The selection of an appropriate vessel for carrying refrigerated containers involves several considerations including number of slots required; container sizes, power requirements, receptacle standard and servicing and monitoring requirements.

* The factors affecting the carriage of temperature-sensitive cargoes are:

* Frozen commodities are stacked as a solid block, with virtually no ventilation between the stack and little or no separation between the cargo and the walls, front, or back of the container. For stowage patterns for chilled products, the refrigerated air must be circulated through the cargo. This is because the heat in the container is not only generated from the outside, it is also generated by the product itself.

During the normal process of respiration fruits take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide, water vapor, and a considerable quality of heat. Another process which continues after harvesting is transpiration, making it important to store harvested produce in an environment which protects it from excessive water loss.

Amongst the different kinds of deterioration which can affect the quality and appearance of fresh fruits and vegetables are physical deterioration, physiological deterioration, chemical deterioration, and pathological deterioration, the various conditions which aid preservation of perishables are temperature, relative humidity, controlled atmospheres.

* India has a tremendous potential for increasing the exports of fresh fruits and vegetables. Despite favourable agro climatic conditions which enable the country to produce a variety of fruits and vegetables. India’s exports of these items has not fared well in comparison to other countries.

The world market for tropical fruit juices, pulps etc. (except pineapple) is estimated to the extent of 1,40,000 to 1,50,000 tonne valued at $ 150 million.

* Since refrigerated containers are increasingly being used in larger sizes (40 ft., and >8 ft. height), the container manufacturing base in India would need to be match these requirements. The infrastructure for handling storage and transportation of these containers needs to be geared up. Presently it is far from adequate.

At present, the Indian refrigeration industry is fully geared to meet the requirements of deep-frozen cargo. However, the chilled cargo demand much more precise temperature and atmospheric control and monitoring. There do not exist, on a large scale, such facilities, and these would have to adopted from the other world leaders.

* Chloro-fluro-carbons (CFC’s) have become a major source of concern in recent years in conjunction with the ozone layer, greenhouse effect and global warming. Decisions being made to combat these environmental changes will have large repercussions in the refrigerated container industry.

The refrigerated container industry, which uses CFC R 11 in insulated container manufacture and R 12 in refrigerated machine manufacture will be affected by the Montreal Protocol. The world leaders in refrigeration technologies for refrigerated containers have already switched to non-CFC refrigerants with zero ODP.

6. Recommendations and Action Plan

While making the recommendations, suggestions regarding Containerization Technologies are avoided since they have already been covered by the earlier TMS, though they are as equally valid for the present TMS.

6.1 Special emphasis needs to be Laid on development of reefer related infrastructure in view of India’s export thrust and potential. Much time has already been lost in this direction. Initially this could be developed at ICDs at Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad, Guwahati, and ports at JNPT, Madras, Cochin. Imports of equipment and components should be allowed at low import duties. It is felt that the above mentioned ports and ICDs, and their hinterlands are most suited to exploit the exports of perishable cargo. There should be emphasis on standardization, and procurement to top-of-the-line technology. This should include:

a) A perspective plan to introduce handling and storage systems over a period of time and responsive to needs of (and changes in) refrigerated containers, which are normally 40 ft. and more, and often >8 ft. and are getting Larger.

b) Planning of adequate numbers of reefer receptacles be done in such as way that the ports are able to cater to the large variety of electrical supply variables like voltages, connector types, and interfaces. In relative terms, this does not involve much investment, but goes a long way in making the refrigerated container service effective and attractive at Indian ports, and reduces operational problems.


Ministry of Surface Transport
Ministry of Railways
State Governments
Ministry of Agriculture

6.2 Refrigerated containers need special facilities for testing, calibration, checking, cleaning and servicing at the ports/ICDs where these would be stuffed. This is a relatively labor intensive service with considerable value added. Moreover, it goes a long way in ensuring long life and high value to the product being transported. It also adds to the attractiveness of the concerned port to the shippers. There is considerable scope to introduce these services at the ICDs and ports mentioned in (1) above with help of private enterprise.


Ministry of Surface Transport
State Governments
Shipping lines/forwarders
Private service provider at ports

6.3 Greater thrust needs to be provided for development of suitable refrigeration systems including temperature controllers (with vast range and fine tolerances, say ± 05?C over a range of -20?C to tropical temperatures). These temperature controllers and data loggers have many high valued applications in domestic and world markets in addition to refrigerated containers.

India has a fast developing process control industry based on microprocessor based real time systems, and a fairly modern refrigeration industry. This can be provide a good platform. Incentives should be provided for import of technology wherever necessary. End-users could also be involved in coordinating with the refrigeration industry of their special requirements.


Ministry of Industry
Ministry of Commerce
Industry associations
Agro and Horticulture based associations and govt. bodies

6.4 The refrigeration industry involved in refrigerated containers must manufacture refrigerating units with non-CFC refrigerants with zero ODP in line with Montreal Protocol and world trends. This is any way inevitable, and starting with a futuristic policy would give the necessary policy would give the necessary lead and avoid fresh investments at a later date. This will have a fall-out for the entire refrigeration sector since the Montreal Protocol is all encompassing. The necessary financial support should be provided.


Ministry of Surface Transport
Ministry of Environment
Industry and Trade associations, especially engineering industry
Indian manufacturers of containers
Relevant state Governments and local Authorities.
Financial Institutions.

6.5 Domestic manufacture should be encouraged. The domestic reefer market is large in view of large growth in transport of fruits, vegetables, fish and other horticultural products. The required equipment and technology for insulation, cooling and the basic reefer technology should be obtained from leaders abroad. Import duties on components and equipment should reduced. The manufacture of reefers should be based on large 40 ft. containers in tune with the world trends. The large domestic market could stabilize India’s international trade aspects:


Ministry of Surface Transport
Ministry of Railways Associations of road transporters
Industry and Trade associations, especially engineering
Indian manufacturers of containers
Relevant state Governments and local Authorities, Financial Institutions.

6.6 India’s domestic market for refrigerated container services is an opportunity untapped. Aggressive marketing and making available container services for domestic perishable cargo would help in improving cargo transportation culture in India, spread container culture in the shippers, and enhance container volumes to levels where additional investments in modern infrastructure would be justified. This should be seen in line with 6.5 above.


Ministry of Surface Transport
Industry and Trade associations
Indian manufacturers of containers
Relevant state Governments and local Authorities.
Agro and Horticulture based associations and govt. bodies I procurement and marketing of perishable produce.

6.7 Main arteries of roads and bridges along the way or importance for container movement need special attention. There needs to be greater emphasis on design, specifications, quality of construction and maintenance to these roads. This aspect is more important since the refrigerated containers are larger and heavier.

Multi-axel trucks, with suitable facilities for under slung diesel generating units should be planned and encouraged. In spite of cargo being the refrigerated containers, smooth and fast movement from the ICDs/stuffing hub to the port and then to final destination is very important for perishable cargo, especially chilled cargo.


Ministry of Surface Transport
Ministry of Finance
State PWDs
Associations of Industry
Associations of transporters
Leading construction firms
Financial Institutions

6.8 The shippers should be with access to effective transport facilities including: capital investment in rail support equipment to move reefer containers; the provision of fast, scheduled refrigerated container provision of fast, scheduled refrigerated container block-trains. The transport industry, shippers and government should create a task force to decide on strategic locations for inland pre-cooling and cold storage facilities, which are woefully inadequate.


Ministry of Surface Transport
Ministry of Agriculture
Ministry of Food-processing
Port Trusts
Central Warehousing Corporation
Industry associations
Associations of exporters
Leading exporters