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Strengthening the Cold Chain With Connected Technologies

AmyChildress Amy Childress | Vice President of Marketing & Planning, Cargo Solutions

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Maintaining food quality and safety is a primary challenge facing retailers who rely on the global cold chain to fulfill the growing demand for fresh food offerings. New technologies are emerging to provide improved visibility and traceability of perishable items, help stakeholders communicate, and ensure adherence to food safety best practices and/or regulatory requirements. I recently contributed to an article by Progressive Grocer which speaks to the importance of leveraging these technologies to achieve those goals and maintain an unbroken cold chain.

With the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent announcement of its New Era of Food Safety initiative, the technology that provides traceability and other key services is becoming more important than ever. This rapidly advancing technological toolset includes internet of things (IoT) condition sensors, temperature-sensitive flexible barcodes and blockchain. Combined, these tools are helping growers, shippers and retailers help ensure the freshest and safest possible product for consumers.

As I stated in the article: “This is especially critical with the global demand for year-round access to perishable products. Achieving this feat can require fresh produce to be transported by land, sea and air, encompassing the point of harvest, processing, cold storage and distribution — all before it ever begins the last-mile delivery to a store or restaurant.” In fact, a perishable shipment may be subject to as many as 20 to 30 individual steps and multiple changes of ownership before it reaches its destination.

Gaining visibility with IoT monitoring and tracking infrastructures

To better manage the sheer complexity of this cold chain journey, stakeholders are leveraging connected IoT monitoring technologies and tracking infrastructures. Operators now have better potential visibility into each step of food’s journey — even the possibility for comprehensive cold chain traceability. These tools — such as Emerson’s GO Real-Time Trackers and GO Loggers combined with our cloud-based Oversight online software portal — are giving stakeholders at each point the abilities to monitor and track a variety of conditions necessary for preserving food quality, including: temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, lighting and much more.

As I pointed out in the article, one of the key values of this technology is the ability to receive email or text notifications in real time when an in-transit shipment falls out of the ideal temperature range: “This allows suppliers to correct the issue promptly with the carrier or even reroute the shipment to a nearby location and preserve that perishable cargo.” Retailers and growers can also track these in-transit shipments to monitor delivery timelines and ensure that carriers are following proper shipping routes. Retailers rely on these devices to help them validate produce quality on receipt and monitor all their suppliers to ensure they’re meeting the freshness standards that their customers demand.

With Emerson’s connected monitoring and tracking infrastructure, data from our GO Real-Time Trackers and GO Loggers is pushed to the cloud and presented in Oversight, giving our customers both visibility and analysis of critical cold chain information with which to make better supply chain decisions.

End-to-end cold chain certainty

Of course, Emerson also provides the critical refrigeration components, controls and compressors to help retailers ensure optimal refrigeration temperatures in their refrigerated cases, walk-in coolers and freezers. Our advanced facility and asset monitoring systems provide real-time access to the critical information that retailers need to track, triage and quickly respond to issues that could potentially impact food safety and quality. What’s more, our automated temperature monitoring and recording devices help operators eliminate the need for time-consuming manual documentation — giving them the abilities to access on-demand reporting as needed for food safety compliance purposes and provide historical cold chain data.

 

[Webinar Recap] Preparing for the Future of Refrigeration

AndrePatenaude_Blog_Image Andre Patenaude | Director, Food Retail Marketing & Growth Strategy, Cold Chain

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

Commercial refrigeration architectures are changing. Environmental regulations and corporate sustainability objectives are driving the need for next-generation refrigeration technologies. Today, most commercial refrigeration end users are still operating legacy, centralized direct-expansion (DX) rack systems — which contain refrigerants that either have high global warming potential (GWP) or ozone depletion potential (ODP). In our most recent E360 Webinar, Diego Marafon, refrigeration scroll product manager at Emerson, and I discussed new refrigeration architectures that utilize eco-friendly refrigerants.

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In many countries, regions and U.S. states, the transition from high-GWP refrigerants is underway. While legacy refrigerant options such as hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) R-404A are being phased down, hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) such as R-22 are being phased out. To meet sustainability targets, future refrigeration options will utilize a variety of emerging lower-GWP refrigerants, including A1s, A2Ls and natural options such as CO2 and propane.

End users must evaluate a wide range of operational, maintenance and economic criteria when selecting an alternative refrigerant or future refrigeration architecture. Based on Emerson-sponsored research on commercial refrigeration end users, we’ve classified these criteria into six categories called the Six S’s: simple to operate and maintain; environmentally and economically sustainable; stable, reliable performance; secure in terms of both technology and safety perspectives; serviceable without requiring specialized skills or training; and equipped with smart technologies for internet of things (IoT) communication. The levels of importance that each end user places on these factors will determine their selection criteria and the types of systems that meet their business objectives.

Emerging architectures and technologies

Aside from CO2 systems, which have been in use for more than a decade, many of the emerging technologies take a decentralized or distributed approach to system architectures. Overall, this strategy moves the refrigeration equipment closer to the refrigerated cases, requires much less refrigerant charge (and piping), and offers a higher degree of flexibility over centralized DX systems. Here is a brief description of some of the decentralized or distributed architectures we reviewed in the webinar:

Low-charge small scroll racks — These systems have been in place for more than 20 years due to their equipment placement flexibility. Multiple-rack units can be placed in proximity to refrigerated loads, allowing suction pressures to be optimized and drive energy efficiencies. Refrigerant charges are smaller, so leaks can be contained to each rack’s individual circuit. They are capable of using multiple refrigerants with varying lower-GWP ratings.

Outdoor condensing units (OCUs) — This well-known approach has been proven for decades and is evolving to meet modern refrigeration needs. OCUs have traditionally been used for smaller refrigeration loads — one unit per load — and many retailers use multiple OCUs to cover individual loads throughout a store. Lower-GWP A1 refrigerants such as R-448/9A can be used for low-temperature applications; low- or medium-pressure refrigerants can be used for medium-temperature applications.

Variable-capacity OCUs — Digital compressors which provide variable-capacity modulation are now being used in OCUs to service multiple refrigeration loads per store. This added range of capacity greatly expands upon traditional remodel and rebuild options — in convenience stores, restaurants, small supermarkets, and click-and-collect operations — and offers the ability to replace three separate condensing units with one. Locating these OCUs in proximity to the refrigerated loads helps keep charge low, allowing them to meet even the most stringent environmental regulations. Variable-capacity modulation enables precise temperature control and excellent load matching capabilities for maximum energy efficiencies. See the Copeland™ Digital Outdoor Refrigeration Unit, X-Line Series for more information.

Distributed micro-booster — This hybrid indoor/outdoor architecture utilizes proven booster technology — typically found in CO2 systems, however new innovative concepts permit the use of low GWP, low-pressure A1 refrigerants for both low- and medium-temperature loads while offering a familiar operation and maintenance footprint. The system utilizes outdoor condensing units for medium-temperature coolers and low-temperature compressors which are located directly on or above the frozen cases. Low-temperature compressors discharge into the nearest medium-temperature suction group, thereby eliminating the need to discharge all the way out to a remote condenser. This allows refrigerant charges and pressures to stay very low, while utilizing one low-GWP A1 refrigerant such as R-513A. Emerson has tested these systems in multiple locations and configurations, where they deliver exceptional performance and energy efficiencies.

Indoor distributed architecture — This flexible configuration utilizes self-contained condensing units located on or near refrigerated cases, islands or prep tables — with refrigerant options, including low-GWP A1s and R-290 (subject to allowable charge limits). Stores with multiple cases can be connected via a shared water or glycol loop to extract heat from each unit and divert it to a remote condenser/cooler. The inherent modular nature of this architecture limits leak rates and keeps charges very low while enabling a very simple, reliable and scalable operational footprint. See the award-winning Copeland Indoor Modular Solution for an end-to-end modular capability that provides seamless integration of refrigeration equipment with Emerson facility controls.

For more detailed information on any of these refrigeration architectures or their enabling technologies, view this webinar in its entirety.

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