|Amy Childress | Vice President of Marketing & Planning,
Cargo Solutions, Emerson’s Cold Chain Business
Over the last decade, connected technologies have transformed the ways in which food cold chain operators preserve food safety and quality. By utilizing monitoring devices connected via the internet of things (IoT), cold chain stakeholders have much greater visibility into their supply chains — and control of myriad factors impacting freshness, safety and quality. Today, with the acceleration of e-commerce fulfillment models, these tools and technologies are even more critical. I recently participated in an article from The Packer, which discussed the importance of cold chain connectivity in today’s challenging retail business climate.
When you consider the international sourcing of fresh produce, overseas shipments can last from two to four weeks, often involving 20–30 steps to travel from farms to consumers. With today’s IoT-enabled monitoring and tracking infrastructures, cold chain stakeholders have the potential for much-improved visibility into each step of this journey — even the possibility for comprehensive cold chain traceability. Connected devices give operators the ability to monitor, control and track a variety of determining conditions, including temperature, humidity, the presence of ripening agents, lighting and much more.
Impacts of e-commerce acceleration
While the growth of the e-commerce grocery business began well before 2020, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated this trend dramatically. In particular, click-and-collect business models have introduced new refrigeration requirements; but many of the walk-in cold storage lockers and reach-in coolers installed for these purposes were undersized for pandemic-driven spikes in volumes. What’s more, many of these coolers were not designed for high volumes of traffic, and frequent opening and closing of doors cause infiltration of warmer, humid air.
Simply put, retailers need new refrigeration strategies to manage the high volume of orders, maintain precise temperatures, and keep up with today’s demand. But it’s critically important to seize this opportunity and provide service levels that keep consumers coming back — especially considering studies show half of customers will stop shopping online with a retailer if they are not happy with the service.
To help address these challenges, Emerson recently launched the Copeland™ Digital Outdoor Refrigeration Unit, X-Line Series. This reliable and robust unit provides refrigeration for medium-temperature, walk-in coolers, such as those used by supermarkets making the transition to e-commerce business models. In addition, its wide applicability makes it ideal for display cases and food preparation areas that are commonly found in convenience stores, small-format stores and restaurants.
Making the cellular network transition
The ongoing evolution of wireless networks is impacting the connected infrastructures and devices utilized by cold chain technology providers. Currently, there are 4.5 million connected pieces of equipment monitored globally by Emerson’s Retail Solutions business. And in many regions, the mobile device industry is phasing out the use of 2G and 3G networks in favor of newer technologies such as 5G. As a result, any legacy real-time tracking device that relies on 2G and 3G networks to transmit data may experience brownouts in coverage.
This is why Emerson is currently launching new devices that utilize emerging technologies such as Category M, or “Cat-M” and Narrow Band internet of things, or “NB-IoT” — both of which are coming online as cellular providers introduce 4G and 5G networks. In fact, we recently launched our next-generation 4G/Cat-M real-time trackers at the Fruit Logistica trade show in Berlin. These new devices are designed to bridge the gap between 2G and these emerging technologies to ensure uninterrupted tracking and monitoring.
Key infrastructure upgrades
As part of our connected infrastructure upgrades, we have also recently introduced Oversight 2, a cloud-based online portal that serves as a real-time resource for monitoring in-transit shipment information. Oversight 2 provides stakeholders with key data points that may impact the quality of perishable cargo, such as temperature, location and other indicators.
For the retail store environment, Emerson’s ProAct™ Connect+ Enterprise Management Software provides near real-time access to critical information to help retailers immediately track, triage and respond to issues across their multi-site network and better meet food quality and safety expectations.