Industry 4.0 technology can help to make cold chain logistics much easier to manage. Internet of things (IoT) devices are already used in a wide range of industries to gather real-time information on business processes.
In the cold chain, IoT technology can help businesses track important data on shipments — potentially allowing them to prevent temperature excursions and provide better data to stakeholders.
Here’s how businesses are already using IoT to optimize their cold chain logistics.
1. Temperature Monitoring
A key feature of IoT devices is their ability to monitor the temperatures that cold chain shipments are exposed to.
By attaching an IoT temperature monitor to the outside of a package or pallet, sensors can be used in a variety of transportation modes — including trucks, rail freight or air cargo — to continuously track the temperature of food items, important pharmaceuticals and other items that need cold chain logistics.
These sensors will gather and report this data in real-time. Because IoT sensors can automatically store data on the cloud, all relevant stakeholders can have access to the temperature data that they collect.
In the event that an IoT sensor detects a temperature excursion, an alert system can automatically notify managers, drivers, administrative staff and other workers — allowing them to take action to prevent spoilage.
Stored data can also be used to improve processes, identify bottlenecks and determine fault in the event that an excursion causes spoilage. At any time after a sensor collects temperature data, stakeholders can review captured information and trends — or use analytics software to automatically extract valuable insights from historical temperature data.
IoT temperature tracking devices can also monitor other aspects of a shipment’s journey — for example, a combination vibration, light and temperature sensor can monitor for heat as well as exposure to light, shocks, vibrations and sudden stops.
Many cold chain products don’t just require low temperatures. Many vaccines that need cold chain logistics, for example, may spoil or lose potency if exposed to light. Sudden shocks can also risk damage to vaccine containers and packing materials.
IoT devices that monitor for temperature can also help to monitor for these potential threats.
2. GPS and RFID Shipment Tracking
IoT devices are also excellent at tracking the current location of a shipment or individual product. By using technology like GPS or RFID, it’s possible for an IoT device to gather information on a shipment’s movement.
With GPS, this information will be in real-time. With RFID, the system will depend on RFID readers installed at important locations that continuously scan for RFID tags. These systems will provide instant updates whenever an RFID tagged shipment arrives at a warehouse, fulfillment center, retail location or delivery destination.
These systems can automatically alert stakeholders when an item is on the move, allowing them to track the position of all their shipments, 24/7. The same IoT device can be used to monitor both temperature and location.
The same technology can also help businesses and logistics providers offer better delivery estimates to their clients. With real-time tracking, it’s much easier to accurately forecast when an item will arrive at a destination.
3. Automated Reporting and Cloud Data Storage
Because IoT devices are connected to the internet and can collect data continuously, they can also be used for automatic report-generation and cloud data backups.
For example, data from an IoT device can be automatically delivered to relevant stakeholders or stored for monthly documentation of important information.
In addition to delivering data to the cloud, an IoT device can send information to logistics management platforms, where the information can be analyzed by stakeholders with the help of dashboards and other data visualization tools.
The device can also stream information to AI-powered analytic tools, allowing businesses to use the IoT data to power delivery time or temperature excursion prediction algorithms.
These algorithms can help businesses see a crisis coming based on patterns in IoT data, potentially long before the issue would be obvious to a manager or analyst following the data on their own.
4. Equipment Health Monitoring and Predictive Maintenance
In addition to monitoring shipments directly, IoT devices are also an excellent tool for tracking the performance and health of cold chain equipment — including delivery vehicles, warehouse machinery and even HVAC systems.
Existing IoT performance monitoring systems can track a wide variety of performance and environmental variables. Information from these systems can help businesses track machine performance and health.
For example, an IoT fleet may capture information on a machine’s timing, vibration, temperature and lubrication. If one of these variables leaves its safe operating range, the system can automatically notify site technicians.
IoT devices may also measure local temperature, humidity and CO2 levels, allowing managers of a warehouse or fulfillment center to know if local environmental conditions may be negatively impacting the performance of a site machine.
Equipment monitoring is already a popular application of IoT devices in many industries, meaning that cold chain logistics professionals wanting to adopt the technology have access to a large and growing market of IoT equipment monitoring solutions.
Experts predict that the market is on track to grow quickly over the next few years, meaning that logistics companies will have access to even more options in the near future.
With enough data, businesses can also use IoT devices to lay the foundation for a predictive maintenance system. These are systems that use AI and IoT machine performance data to predict a machine’s maintenance needs.
By analyzing information collected from IoT devices, it’s possible to predict when a machine will need maintenance or repairs.
These systems can also alert managers when they predict that machine failure is imminent — allowing for an emergency shutdown that can help to prevent significant damage to a machine that may result in more expensive repairs and greater downtime.
How IoT Devices May Help to Transform the Cold Chain
With new IoT devices, cold chain logistics providers may be able to streamline their operations. A fleet of IoT devices can provide crucial information on both shipments and the equipment used to move them.
Cold chain professionals are already using IoT devices to prevent spoilage and more effectively monitor shipments as they move from location to location.
IoT devices can also lay the foundation for predictive analytics algorithms that can accurately predict delivery times or machine maintenance needs
Emily Newton is an industrial journalist. As Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, she regularly covers how technology is changing the industry