Although supply chain management is a critical area of most companies — especially due to the fact that it increases competitiveness and customer satisfaction — some studies such as this one from McKinsey states that merely 43% of the companies surveyed have applied digitization to some portion of their process. Nevertheless, the study also suggests that companies that aggressively digitize their supply chains can expect to, on average, increase their earnings by 3.2% and their annual revenue by 2.3%.
Companies in industries that involve the processing and delivery of goods sensitive to temperature variation require some type of control and monitoring. Various forms of management and monitoring throughout the process could drastically reduce losses and help guarantee the quality of the subsequent products and services. USDA’s Economic Research Service even estimates that, in the United States, 31% of food is lost at the retail and consumer levels.
Besides the tangible benefits that a well managed operation can yield, companies in certain sectors such as Food & Pharmaceutical are required to comply with local regulatory and enforcement agencies. In the US for example, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is mandated to ensure compliance — similar to the role of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) present in Europe. Having a tool that can record and generate reports with the conditions reached during the entire process is becoming essential.
In addition to that, companies in most industries can use the IoT (Internet of Things) to automate processes and even collect data to generate insights that can be used to proactively solve problems before customers even notice.
Some of the benefits that IoT can bring to Cold Chain Management are:
- To ensure compliance with regulatory requirements
- Improve customer experience
- Reduce and avoid food waste
- Reduce maintenance cost
- Gain insights for new products and offers
Case 1 – Temperature management for supermarkets
This case exemplifies how a company that needed to monitor the quality and status of perishable goods in a supermarket built the visualization and reports in real-time. This is an example of an application in the last step of the cold chain process. In cases like these, the sensors are normally fixed; their location would only be set once during the customization of the dashboard.
See this demo working in real time here.
Case 2 – Temperature management in trucks
In this case, one of the goals was to improve customer satisfaction and comply with the regulatory environment by monitoring temperature, humidity, location and other variables — all in real-time. After that, the sensor data was combined to generate reports and notifications to indicate when a certain condition was met. Also, through the use of geofence capabilities and integration with web services, it was possible to determine when trailers and trucks arrived or left certain areas.
See this demo working in real time here.
Companies can apply different types of smart sensors to monitor containers, boxes, and various types of coolers and refrigerators in their supply chain. By having more information on hand, businesses are also able to reduce cargo loss and operating costs. Featured below are some of the sensors that can be used in a typical cold chain solution.
Key items to be considered when building a Cold Chain Management solution
Although there are several providers in the market that offer software to monitor temperature in this sector, many are incomplete or lack the flexibility that are critical when customization is essential. Here is a list of some items and characteristics that you should consider when putting together a solution for your business:
1. Select the right sensor and device
Each sensor is designed for a certain temperature and humidity range, which includes measurement and operating limits. In some cases, the sensors are separated from the device that acquire and convert the electronic signals. You may need to consider a combination of sensors based on your needs.
2. Consider the different types of connectivities
Nowadays, there are devices that can communicate to the Internet using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPRS, LTE, Z-Wave, ZigBee, LoRaWAN, Sigfox, or any other type of connectivity. Some of them may be free, but others, such as LTE, GPRS, Sigfox, and public LoRaWAN have costs associated with them that must be carefully considered.
3. Define which type of reports and notifications you will need now and in the future
End-users normally expect a high level of customized reports in .CSV, .XLS, .PDF, or other formats. These reports may be sent in a predefined schedule, manually, or by event. Make sure that the platform you are selecting allows you to continue adding modules or scripts to generate alerts, analytics, and further integration in the future – you may not need them right away, but you will not want to be stuck with a legacy that doesn’t allow you to respond to ever-changing conditions and competition quickly.
4. Integration is the key to go beyond IoT
Have in mind that you will hardly find all the features you want in merely one place, so you may need to integrate your solution with external systems or data providers. Perhaps you might need to integrate your new Cold Chain Management application with an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), a ticket management system, or any other software that your company uses. For example, if you already have another asset tracking platform in place that is collecting locations from GPS devices, you may want to combine that data with your new temperature sensors. All sensor data can be automatically combined, processed, and transferred to the business back-end by using APIs (Application Programming Interface).
5. Customization and branding to stand out from competition
If your application will be accessed by end-users that are your customers or partners, you will most likely want to customize it with your own brand. More than just showing off your colors and logo, you will want to deliver a solution using your own URL. Not all platforms allow customers to customize these modules, so make sure that your requirements are clear when selecting platform providers.
You may have to invest a little bit more time at the beginning to configure everything, but it will most definitely pay off as you will end up significantly increasing your chances of engaging with your customers while providing fully-customized solutions.
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