Chill out. Preserving the cold chain with the Internet of Things
When you walk into a supermarket, it’s remarkable to think of the chilled and frozen foods that have made it there, perhaps travelling many thousands of miles, all while being kept under carefully monitored temperature conditions in trucks, ships and planes. Over a billion pallets requiring controlled temperatures are shipped worldwide every year in what is known as a cold chain, including in the highly regulated food and medicine industries.
Maintaining a cold chain can be challenging. Within a truck, the temperature can vary by up to seven degrees centigrade between the truck door and the cooler inside. If there is a delay, goods might be left on the runway or the docks, awaiting a plane or ship, while the sun beats down on them. Or they could simply be waiting in a warehouse for a courier, exposing the package to room temperature for longer than planned.
The old way to enforce the cold chain was to use temperature loggers in the shipments that kept a record of the temperature throughout its trip. When the shipment arrived, the logger could be connected to a PC to check the goods had been maintained in the right conditions. But if they hadn’t, it was too late to do anything about it. Food or medicine might have to be discarded at great expense. When the supply chain breaks down like this, shops are left with empty shelves and unsatisfied customers, and patients needing medication
might suffer unnecessary discomfort while waiting for the next delivery.
Loggers are only good for answering backward-looking questions like ‘what happened to my shipment?’ or ‘has my shipment arrived?’. What supply chain operators really need to know is the answer to questions like ‘what is the condition of my shipment now?’ and ‘where is it now?’; perhaps even looking to the future by asking ‘should I ship now based on the weather forecast?’ or ‘what are the odds my shipment will make it without a temperature violation?’
CartaSense* uses real-time data to answer these questions, and more. The company offers end-to-end monitoring and alerting capabilities for cold-chain, agricultural and asset security applications. Its single-use wireless sensors are attached to the pallets or inside the cold boxes used to transport the goods. To gather the data, Internet of Things (IoT) gateways are placed in warehouses, trucks, on the runway and at other milestones in the distribution chain. These gateways are based on Intel® Gateway Solutions for the Internet of Things, so they’re able to perform analysis of the data locally, and can enable alarms to be raised in the warehouse or cooling to be switched on automatically to rectify a problem. The gateway also sends information to the cloud, where CartaSense’s software performs further analysis and raises alarms by SMS or email where necessary. When a sensor is out of range of a gateway, it acts as a logger, storing up to 2,500 measurements, and submitting them as soon as it establishes a connection.
Having real-time and near real-time information like this makes it easier to preserve the cold chain, and to protect the medicines and foods passing through it. If a package exceeds its recommended temperature, it might be possible to regulate it by cooling it before it is passed further through the chain, for example, avoiding a loss that might have occurred if timely action had not been taken. In some cases, it might be possible to avert a disaster by simply moving a pallet into the shade when loading takes longer than expected. Using this intelligence-led approach, supply chain staff are able to be proactive in addressing issues and go straight to the problem areas, rather than spending time looking for loggers and downloading their data.
If you’re in Milan for Cisco Live* from 26 to 30 January, drop by the Intel booth to see a demo of this cool technology in action.
About the author:
Chen Lupescu manages the Internet of Things business for Intel in Israel and is a member of the IoT Team at Intel EMEA. She is responsible for defining the strategy and driving business development activities for IOT. This includes building Intel's IoT ecosystem with key accounts, driving IoT solutions and leading strategic IoT projects in smart cities and other key segments, inside and outside of Israel.
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