How the IIoT will make the cold chain smarter, safer and more efficient

Aug. 1, 2019
Reducing waste, improving lives with IIoT.

By Sam Cece, Founder, President, & CEO of Swift Sensors

The need for cold-chain capacity is growing, and so are the stakes for cold-chain integrity and quality assurance. As the food and pharmaceuticals industries work to meet rising global demand, the cold chain must add capacity while getting smarter to reduce waste, protect consumers, and operate more efficiently. The IIoT and cloud-based data analytics can help build a larger, smarter cold chain.

Swift Sensors Sam Cece

There’s no question that industry is placing more demands on the cold chain. The food and beverage industry is growing by 10% year over year, and sales of temperature-controlled pharma products are growing twice as fast as the pharmaceutical industry overall. The challenge is to grow cold chain capacity while improving cold chain integrity. 

Currently, about a quarter of global food products and one-fifth of temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals are wasted because of cold chain problems. This waste costs producers money, drives up product prices for consumers, and can lead to scarcity of food items and vaccines. Foodborne illnesses are another major concern. They sicken one in six Americans each year and put 128,000 people in the hospital. Improvements in temperature control and better data collection along the cold chain can help reduce those numbers.

Reducing waste, improving lives with IIoT

Refrigeration-equipment malfunctions, long wait times in hot locations like loading docks, and a lack of cold-chain resources in developing agricultural markets all contribute to the problem. Analysts estimate that solving these cold chain problems could save the food industry $150 billion a year in waste alone. 

Wireless sensors can help by providing visibility at every point from farm to retailer. These sensors are small, inexpensive, and easy to use in packaging, shipping containers, trucks, and warehouses to measure temperature, humidity and other conditions that affect product quality. Because the sensors are always sending data to the cloud, managers can see current temperatures on their PCs or phones from anywhere, without having to wait for local servers to run updates with data from wired sensor systems.

Wireless monitoring systems can also send alerts when a package or piece of equipment is out of the proper temperature range. Real-time alerts enable managers to pull compromised product before it reaches end users, and to start equipment repairs as quickly as possible. These capabilities can reduce the need for costly, brand-damaging recalls later. 

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Providing real-time compliance and QA information

Traditionally, temperature data and anomalies during shipment have been recorded and entered manually, after delivery. This data is important for safety, but the way it’s been collected and recorded until now puts producers in reactive mode when there’s a problem. In the event of a recall, someone must go through those computer logs to look for the source of the problem, a process that is time- and labor-intensive. 

With wireless data coming in throughout the process, there’s no need to manually enter temperature readings and anomalies after each shipment is delivered. All that data goes into the system as it happens. Ongoing data collection and analysis also makes it easier for producers and shippers of all sizes to comply with US Food Safety Modernization Act requirements. These requirements include monitoring pathogen-control measures, verifying those control measures, and building a written recall plan. 

Reducing reactive maintenance in the cold chain

Cold-chain-equipment malfunctions cause product waste and create logistical problems in getting perishable products to market. Preventive maintenance prevents some unplanned downtime, but predictive maintenance can reduce it even more, and here again, the IIoT is the solution.

Wireless sensors like those that report on product conditions can monitor equipment temperature and vibration. By pairing this real-time equipment data with machine learning and data analytics, IIoT monitoring platforms can learn when specific types of equipment are operating out of their ideal range and need to be serviced or replaced, long before a technician would be able to make that call with confidence. Using wireless sensors for predictive maintenance can also delay the need to upgrade to smart equipment.

With real-time insight into product conditions and equipment function, producers, transporters, and storage providers can reduce product waste, save time on record-keeping, identify potential problems faster, deliver safer product to market, cut unplanned downtime, and maximize their return on existing equipment.

This is the smarter, safer, and more efficient cold chain we need to meet the demands of a growing global market.