How IIoT creates a stronger cold chain

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Each year, almost one third of the world’s produced food is lost or wasted somewhere along the food supply chain, according to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). It means that 1.6 billion tons of food valuing 1 trillion US-Dollars are thrown away every year. This incredibly high amount illustrates the seriousness of this global issue that could be avoided by supply chain optimisation.

A recent study by the Australian Expert Group revealed that one of the many reasons for food loss lies in weak links in the cold chain on the way from the farm through transport to the retailer. These failures in the cold chain resulted in food waste that costs the Australian economy almost $4 billion a year at farm gate values.

The IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) holds the potential to minimise or even eliminate food waste and food loss at each stage of the cold chain.

Defining the cold chain

Cold chain stands for temperature management of perishable products to maintain their quality and safety along the whole distribution chain from point of origin to final consumer, according to the Global Cold Chain Alliance.

This distribution process usually begins with the production of raw ingredients, for example at a farm, and proceeds to a manufacturing facility, where the final or intermediate product is produced. The product is then usually transported via logistics companies to a distribution or storage facility, from where it finally gets shipped to the retailer, who sells the product to the end customer.

Considering that perishables, such as leafy greens, dairy products, medicines or vaccines, need to be kept at the correct temperature, it is obvious that this long and complex supply chain gives rise to many opportunities for potential errors impacting the product’s quality.

Along the cold chain, various equipment from refrigerated warehouses through cold storage units such as refrigerators and freezers to refrigerated containers or trucks, are used to preserve fresh or frozen perishable goods during the complete product lifecycle.

The importance of the cold chain

Perishable products are usually very sensitive to temperature deviations, making cold chain management crucial for maintaining high product quality and extending its shelf-life. Even small deviations of temperature can have negative impacts on the perishable’s quality.

The importance of the cold chain in the food and pharmaceutical industries is, therefore, evident, as insufficient temperature management of these perishables leads to degradation of product quality and safety caused by the growth of pathogens and microorganisms.

Basically, maintaining perishables within strict pre-determined temperature boundaries along the cold chain maintains high quality of these products and therefore can prevent and reduce food loss, protects customer health, and increase customer satisfaction.

However, malfunctioning refrigeration equipment, insufficient insulation, or difficulties in monitoring temperatures during transport might still lead to food loss. In addition, operator errors, such as incorrect temperature measurement or simply leaving the door to the walk-in chiller open, are common but preventable causes for food loss in the cold chain.

IIoT – smart cold chain solutions

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), a network of industrial devices that are connected to the Internet, can significantly optimise the cold chain with the help of smart remote wireless sensors that can track a variety of critical variables such as temperature, humidity or light, in real-time. In 2018, a study of the Boston Consulting Group, already identified IIoT devices as one of several measures that food businesses can take to tackle food waste.

The benefits of IIoT in cold chains

IIoT enabled devices and intelligent software can track quality metrics literally from farm to fork via automated monitoring and enable seamless communication between the different players of the supply chain. Thus, companies can connect with every step in the distribution process, enabling cost-optimising benefits.

Other benefits of IIoT devices in the cold chain are real-time visibility, improved efficiency, data accuracy and flexibility, for instance.

  • 24/7 Visibility

IIoT temperature sensors monitor ambient temperature remotely and in real-time, alerting businesses immediately when pre-defined critical thresholds are passed. By implementing comprehensive analytics with the help of IIoT devices, businesses generate end-to-end visibility and can proactively manage the cold chain.

These data insights enable food businesses to close gaps in the cold chain, improving product quality and safety. Organisations are, therefore, able to fix the cold chain when it fails.

  • Efficiency

IIoT sensors completely automate temperature measurements, eliminating time-intense paperwork and manual recording tasks. This saves businesses money and time and frees up staff for other important tasks.

  • Precision & Accuracy

Automated temperature monitoring is much more precise than manual measurement with hand-held thermometers, as opening the door to cold-store facilities or simply holding the thermometer can affect the recorded temperature. By removing manual, paper-based recordings, IIoT devices reduce human errors, one of the major causes of temperature issues occurring in the cold chain. As the captured data is automatically transferred to the cloud-based system, data manipulation is prevented.

  • Flexibility

IIoT devices are usually small and can communicate with various software systems, making them highly adaptable to various applications and environments. The smart sensors can be installed in cold store units, such as refrigerators or freezers, as well as in transportation units like containers or trucks. The sensors can either transmit data via Wi-Fi within the business’ facilities or on route via cellular networks.

IIoT applications along the cold chain

Due to their flexibility, IIoT devices can be applied in various environments along the cold chain. Wireless temperature sensors, for example, can monitor the ambient temperature of refrigerators, freezers, containers or even whole refrigerated warehouses in manufacturing or distribution as well as retail facilities in real-time.

This enables food businesses to detect equipment failures early and take corrective actions instantly to preserve perishables. The IIoT sensor can even map fine developments such as the addition of new stock generating a spike in temperatures. Collected data can also be analysed for predictive analytics, enabling preventive maintenance.

In the logistics industry, IIoT temperature sensors can be used for remote temperature monitoring of cold trucks, for example. Positioned in the cold truck, the IIoT sensor can log the recorded temperature during transport and uploads the data to the cloud automatically on return to the truck depot.

Being more efficient and accurate, these smart sensors completely replace conventional data loggers that need to be plugged into a computer after each trip to read the recorded data. What is more, the IIoT device can alert the driver to critical temperature deviations during transport, enabling them to quickly adjust the cooling system. IIoT sensors also offer the possibility of GPS-based asset tracking that helps logistics businesses become more efficient.

IIoT sensors help reduce food loss

By using IIoT solutions that capture and analyse the performance data of the cold chain, food businesses can contribute significantly to reducing food waste and loss by ensuring that food products are always kept at the right temperature. What is more, they can significantly increase the business’ efficiency and, therefore, improve their bottom line.

iMonitor offers a wide range of IIoT sensors that help you monitor all your critical quality metrics, such as temperature, humidity, light, CO2, or ground moisture. Please contact us to learn how IIoT can help improve your cold chain management or food quality management.

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