When a press release arrived announcing that Cookeville, Tenn.-based Averitt Express now offers temperature-controlled less-than-truckload (LTL) service using self-contained pallet-mounted units, we had a flashback to the early '90s. Back then, a similar venture—known as the Pallet Reefer—was launched by Louis P. Saia III, a member of the family that founded and later sold the trucking company that still bears their name. Like Averitt's unit, Saia's container was specifically designed for LTL transportation and to fit on a standard pallet. The Pallet Reefer business eventually failed, following a legal dispute between the inventor and his joint venture partner.
For its new service, Averitt will use the self-powered Cold Box, which is designed and manufactured by Climate Controlled Containers Inc. The units can handle frozen and refrigerated cargo, which allows shippers to move goods without the need for refrigerated trailers, and can also be used to keep cargo warm. The Cold Boxes operate on batteries that can last up to 150 hours, according to the manufacturer. They carry a maximum payload of 1,500 pounds and have built-in slots for forklift handling.
Averitt says the devices are particularly well suited for high-value, temperature-sensitive pharmaceutical and specialty chemical payloads. They come with a 24/7 tracking feature, which allows customers to monitor everything from temperature and humidity to entry and function alarms. Customers can track their shipments live on the Web via any device and can even watch their shipments via live video. That capability makes this an especially fortuitous time to launch the service: The Cold Box could help shippers improve regulatory compliance at a time when both pharmaceuticals and food products are coming under increasingly stringent requirements regarding chain of custody and product quality.
Cold Box is not the only such product on the market, by the way. One Stop Critical offers the Critical Cube, a portable refrigeration unit for LTL shipments that uses liquid carbon dioxide and a digital controller to maintain temperatures of as low as -30 degrees F for five days. The manufacturer expects to make it available nationwide in the first half of 2014.
So what happened to the Pallet Reefer? In the mid-1990s, Saia and his joint venture partner, Grumman Allied, had a falling out, and the latter pushed him out. Saia sued the manufacturing giant and eventually won, but his company does not appear to be currently active.