How the internet of things is transforming cold chain management

30 March 2020

Fresh food, perishable goods, urgent medical supplies and sensitive vaccines all require very particular storage conditions across long voyages. They need precise environmental controls, which in turn requires the correct infrastructure and rigorous standards. This is the cold chain, a unique supply chain of cooled storage and refrigerated transport.


Poor infrastructure and insufficient processes can be disastrous, particularly for things like vaccines which require a tight temperature range of between two and eight degrees Celsius—in developing countries, inadequate infrastructure and a lack of refrigerated transportation can prevent urgent vaccines reaching their destination intact. Other products might additionally require specific levels of oxygen or carbon dioxide, as well as strict temperature controls.


Transporting such sensitive goods presents a huge challenge, but fortunately the internet of things (IoT) can step in to help.


Improving visibility and reliability


The internet of things can be used to track products, measure variables like humidity, temperature—external and internal—and the environmental conditions in which they’re being transported. This data can be sent to the necessary stakeholders who can then make snap decisions about the storage and transportation of sensitive goods.


For instance, frozen meat or fresh produce that has been exposed to higher temperatures due to a faulty storage system can be immediately and seamlessly removed from circulation to lower the risk of infection, or swiftly removed to a warehouse that has more effective refrigeration systems.


These sensors deliver end-to-end visibility, allowing users to use predictive and descriptive analytics to make real-time adjustments. Some systems can even detect whether a product is being stolen—differentiating that from a fault or from normal transit—and alert a cargo driver, activate a ‘lockdown’ or alert the police before anyone else is aware of the issue.


This gives teams better control over their warehouses and transport, and can significantly reduce wastage. Indeed, in the United States, around 40% of all food is lost during storage and transit, meaning IoT-enabled devices can result in substantial cost and efficiency savings.


Facilitating automation


As the IoT-enabled systems gather more and more data, AI and machine learning is able to make better predictive analysis about potential threats and challenges to the cold chain. That way, teams can react to events before they happen, and tackle potential faults such as system or hardware malfunctions before they occur.


Predictive modelling can also help plan for changing market conditions or any weather and environmental events that might create a food shortage, to cater for particular peaks and troughs in demand weeks and months ahead of time–this is particularly important when dealing with sensitive and perishable goods that require rigorous planning.


The benefits of cold chain monitoring


When it comes to food and medicine, the benefits are clear. Cold chain monitoring reduces foodborne illnesses, prevents wastage and loss of product, and makes transporting essential medical supplies quicker, safer and easier; this in turn improves customer satisfaction and potentially saves lives.


Furthermore, because the IoT can be used to manage an entire supply chain, coordinating across different teams is much easier. This might mean that a warehouse team can be put on stand-by to receive a sensitive shipment, knowing it needs immediate transportation to a secure area, or it might mean that a reserve truck can be quickly put into action to take over from a faulty vehicle part way through transit.


To learn more about the advantages of new, innovative methods for managing the cold chain, attend Intermodal Asia 2020’s Cold Chain Forum, covering the constant changes to this essential sector.


Get your free ticket to Intermodal Asia today.