ICCC2020 highlights: Benefits of IoT technologies for cold chain management
Internet of Things and cloud services are promising solutions for smart management and maintenance of the multiple cold rooms of supermarket chains.
The control and monitoring of the operating parameters of the various cold chain equipment was one of the major topics addressed during the 6th IIR Conference on Sustainability and the Cold Chain (ICCC) at the end of August 2020 in Nantes, France.
Experts from AKO (1) (2) and Thermo King (2) presented two papers whose aim is to show how connectivity based on Internet of Things (IoT), cloud services and cloud-based computation of multi-parameter indexes relating to the efficiency of equipment and the quality of food products can allow smart management of sets of cold rooms or refrigerated containers by using very large databases.
- Cold rooms (1)
These tools offer the possibility of diagnosing cold room malfunctions or launch design corrections and maintenance operations, ultimately leading to operational cost reduction and food quality improvement.
Estimates cited by the authors suggest that there are about 1.5 million of cold rooms within the EU - 67% of them being smaller than 400m3 - and around 1.4 M cold rooms in the US. The electricity consumption of cold rooms represents approximately 13% of the total electricity consumption of supermarket chains.
The typical life-span of a cold room is between 12 and 25 years. Acquisition costs represent only about 25% of the total cost of ownership (TCO) of cold rooms while the remaining 75% of costs are attributable to operational expenditures (OPEX), mainly energy consumption and maintenance costs.
Moreover, the value for the refrigerated goods is estimated at 45% of the total turnover of the retail activity. Correct control and proper monitoring of cold rooms are therefore necessary, not only to minimize food losses, but also to improve the quality and attractiveness of food products.
The paper presents a platform able to create and apply smart indexes:
- The cold room efficiency (CORE) index provides an integral measure of the overall efficiency of the cold room, taking into account the “cooling effectivity”, the “maintenance factor” and the “energy use”.
- Food storage quality indicators reflect the effect of the temperature on food products according to two parameters: the effects of drying (directly related to weight loss) and the effects on shelf-life.
The way the indexes are computed as well as the computational structure are also fundamental aspects to be considered. On the one hand, some of these indexes are rather difficult (or impossible) to compute with standard hardware, due to memory and chip processing limitations. On the other hand, the ultimate goal of cold room management and optimization is only meaningful when several cold rooms indexes from different systems or locations can be centralised, compared and diagnosed remotely. Hence, the concepts of connectivity and cloud services emerge here as a fundamental solution for leveraging all the raw data generated (at cold room level) as information and, finally, in terms of management and optimisation (at the cloud level).
The Internet of Things (IoT) is progressively becoming a standard tool in various commercial and industrial scenarios. Low connectivity costs, new cellular technologies (and gateway designs) and the ability to manage large amounts of data in flexible cloud services are key to the penetration of these technologies.
The authors illustrate the benefits of this tool through the example of an Israeli supermarket chain of 50 supermarket shops comprising 350 cold rooms where cloud-connected controllers and IoT techniques have been implemented.
Today’s computing platform is a starting point for multiple developments for refrigeration applications in general, and for the cold rooms in particular. General Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms and especially machine learning approaches can lead to optimal parametrization (through automatic adjustment of set points, alarms, etc. after cloud computing analysis) and in particular maintenance alarms.
- Refrigerated transport (2)
Experts from AKO and Thermo King presented a similar approach applied to refrigerated transport. By making use of advanced food quality storage indexes, data collected by IoT thermal sensors installed in road/marine refrigerated containers, a cloud-based computing platform remotely allows to evaluate the elapsed shelf-life time and relative weight loss of the products during the transport and provides objective information for management of potential incidents.
(1) Albets-Chico X. et al. Cold room control, Efficiency and Analysis Based on IoT Connected Cloud Services: https://iifiir.org/en/fridoc/142460 (free for IIR members)
(2) Albets-Chico X. et al. Food Properties Analysis in Refrigerated Transport through Connected IoT Devices: https://iifiir.org/en/fridoc/142470 (free for IIR members)