Feeling the chill: Bringing IoT to cold chain logistics in retail
IoT in retail - bringing IoT to the supermarket

Feeling the chill: Bringing IoT to cold chain logistics in retail

In a contributed article for Internet of Business, Dermot O’Connell, vice president of OEM and IoT solutions for Dell EMC EMEA, discusses how IoT might be used to tackle supermarkets’ over-chill challenge.

The accumulation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in our atmosphere has led to noticeable environmental changes. Ocean acidification and increasing ocean temperatures are damaging marine ecosystems. Rising sea levels are increasing risks to coastal communities and commercial facilities. Each year, at least eight million tons of plastics find their way into the ocean and the increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events puts human lives at risk.

This bleak outlook should serve as a call to action for governments, businesses and the general public alike to do their part to drive change – but where to start? 

Read more: GE boss Immelt takes stand against Trump climate change moves

Retail decisions

Let’s look at the retail sector. Did you know that the retail sector, including supermarkets, is one of the largest users of F-gas (fluorinated greenhouse gas) refrigerants? That’s a situation that could be improved upon immediately and with no need for an overly complex solution.

Pretty much everyone’s heard the hype about the IoT and how cool it is that the fridge in your kitchen can tell you when you’re out of milk. But what if all the millions of refrigerated train cars, lorries and storage centres used by supermarkets in the cold chain process – the transportation and storage of perishable foodstuffs – could tell owners and operators when they actually needed to be switched on, or up, in order to keep food fresh? In fact, they already can. 

IoT sensors can be used to monitor these refrigeration units, tracking their temperature and lowering the level of energy or the number of units needed, according to how cold food needs to be and how much is currently stored. They can also track how long food has been out of refrigeration and how quickly it needs to be chilled again before it spoils and creates unnecessary waste.

A good example here is IMS Evolve, a Dell EMC partner that helps its customers monitor refrigerated food supply chains. That’s important work, because companies in the food retail industry readily admit that supply chain complexity means it is easier and safer to chill all food to the lowest temperature required (typically, that required by meat products), meaning an extensive annual over-chill.

However, by integrating data from existing machine sensors with supply chain and merchandise systems, as well as fridge control systems, each machine can be automatically set at the temperature to suit its specific contents, removing instances of over-chilling.

The ‘always on’ nature of this approach ensures that when, in the course of normal business, products are moved around a store, the right temperature for the right product is sustained automatically. The result is that IMS Evolve is able to help its clients, including a major UK supermarket, significantly reduce excess energy consumption, minimise food waste and improve customer experience.

Read more: AT&T gives wings to Red Bull IoT project

Product quality

In addition, with smart cold chains, a higher quality product can be achieved, resulting in a better customer experience. In manufacturing and processing environments, consistency of both ingredient quantities and environmental factors can be regulated and the available data from each stage of the process united to ensure the highest quality, most profitable end product every time.

Take dairy products, for example: many of us have come face-to-face with an unappetising watery yogurt, but few are aware this a familiar byproduct of over chilling, one that could be eliminated by a smarter cold chain.

The possibilities for IoT are endless, but it’s important to think beyond the big visions of smart cities and focus instead on more modest applications that would nonetheless change a business, its products or the customer experience if offers for the better. These small changes could make a big difference to the world.

Connecting the cold chain process is only one example, of course, of how businesses can make a positive impact on customer experience and on the environment. It’s important to look at all options to reduce the effect that businesses can have on the physical world – alternative shipping methods can be deployed, sustainable packaging can be used, components can be recycled. While we can’t fix global warming with just a few sensors, as more organisations realise the capabilities of IoT, it’s at least one small step in the pursuit of a better world.

Read more: Climate change will be among KPIs for smart cities by 2020, says Gartner