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7 Keys to Preparing for the Future of Real-time Tracking

Matthew Neidlinger | Director of Product Management,

Digital Solutions, Emerson’s Cold Chain Business

Over the next several years, 2G and 3G cellular networks will become obsolete and potentially impair the ability for real-time trackers to help provide in-transit monitoring of perishable shipments. These legacy cellular networks have provided the technology infrastructure that enabled real-time trackers to deliver live location and temperature data throughout the global perishable cold chain. But as these networks are phased out, end users will need to make the transition to cargo-tracking devices built to utilize next-generation networks.

It’s a complicated landscape, but Emerson will help you navigate this important industry evolution. Here are seven keys you need to know to ensure a smooth transition to next-generation, real-time tracking devices.

    1. Why are 2G and 3G cellular networks being phased out? The quickly evolving mobile device industry has outgrown both 2G and 3G networks. As 4G and 5G technologies roll out globally, 2G and 3G networks are becoming obsolete. Specific turndown timelines are dependent on carrier and geographic regions.
    2. What does this mean to the cargo tracking industry? Real-time trackers help end users monitor food quality and safety by providing access to location and sensor data such as temperature, humidity and much more. As 2G and 3G networks turn down, cold chain stakeholders will begin to experience gaps in their coverage, which could impair their abilities to help monitor food quality (freshness) and safety in real time.
    3. How do you know if you’re impacted? If you are currently using 2G and 3G real-time trackers, you may already be experiencing the impacts of cellular network turndown. Pay attention to your data; be on the lookout for increasing blind spots in your visibility to shipment location/temperature data.
    4. What’s taking the place of 2G and 3G networks? Real-time trackers transmit small packets of data that require relatively little memory, battery power and bandwidth. Next-generation, low-power, wide area (LPWA) 5G network technologies — such as Category M (Cat-M) and Narrow band IoT (NB-IoT) — will deliver similar performance characteristics to 2G and 3G while keeping the cost of real-time trackers affordable.
    5. When will these new networks roll out? New Cat-M 5G networks are already in the process of rolling out, and major U.S. network providers are allocating infrastructure and technology investments toward these next-generation technologies. While this trend will continue, in some countries and shipping regions, 2G will remain viable well into the future due to its installed base and cost-effectiveness.
    6. When will the next generation of real-time tracking devices be available? To minimize gaps in real-time coverage due to the 2G and 3G turndown, we are actively developing the next generation of real-time trackers that utilize multi-network technology and redundancy. These new devices will help eliminate real-time dead zones by providing global coverage for shipments that travel between regions covered by both 2G and emerging networks.
    7. How is Emerson helping the industry make this transition? The cellular landscape will be in flux for the next several years, and Emerson is doing everything we can to help prepare the cargo tracking industry for this transition. In addition to developing the next generation of GO real-time 4G/5G tracking devices, we are advising customers about which real-time trackers work best for their shipping routes and working closely with network providers to understand the timing of 2G and 3G turndowns.

Wherever your business ships its perishable cargo, we’ll help you navigate the cellular transition. For additional details on how you can implement these steps, please download our infographic.

Refrigeration Strategies for Small-Format Retailers

Andre Patenaude | Director – Solutions Integration,

Emerson’s Cold Chain Business

The trend toward smaller grocery store formats has taken hold across the global food retail industry. These small-footprint outlets — which can be located closer to customers in urban centers and universities — are designed to provide optimal shopping experiences that are tailored to appeal to customers’ regional preferences. While traditional centralized refrigeration systems are too large for these small facilities, new equipment is emerging to suit these smaller spaces and support retailers’ unique operational goals and constraints. As I discussed in a recent article for ACHR The NEWS, many retailers are adopting a more decentralized refrigeration approach to support their small-format operations.

Compared to typical large-format grocery stores — which can cover more than 100,000 square feet and are found in most suburban areas — small-format stores are usually less than 40,000 square feet in size and are popping up in non-traditional locations and under-served communities. In terms of refrigeration, large stores utilize complex refrigeration rack systems, which can contain thousands of pounds of refrigerant. Small-format stores require completely different refrigeration strategies — which often means taking a decentralizing approach for more flexibility and much lower refrigerant charges.

Space constraints drive refrigeration options

Lack of space for mechanical rooms and other facility access restrictions are among the primary considerations for small-format retailers. Some stores are located inside residential buildings, which may prevent the use of remote racks or condensing units to be installed on rooftops. In mixed-use spaces, basic considerations such as door clearances can also dictate equipment selection.
The good news for retailers is that there are many refrigeration alternatives designed to address these challenges. The alternatives are often more flexible and typically combine a distributed refrigeration architecture for primary refrigeration needs, along with stand-alone cases — which integrate the refrigeration system into the case — that can be moved around a store to support seasonal and regional offerings.
Distributed approaches to refrigeration system design typically rely on indoor or outdoor condensing unit (OCU) architectures that allow the refrigeration equipment to be installed in closer proximity to fixed display cases. Another advantage of this approach is the ability to deploy a distributed controls architecture, which allows individual refrigeration assets to be operated and controlled independently. Thus, if a facility controller were to fail, there would be little to no impact on individual assets.
In addition, utilizing distributed controls in tandem with a centralized building or facility management controller results in a hybrid approach that delivers the best of both worlds: independent asset control and centralized visibility to all assets.

Multiple approaches for varying preferences

As is the case with large-format retailers, it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for selecting a refrigeration architecture for smaller formats. From environmental sustainability to system lifecycle costs and servicing requirements, retailers have a wide range of pain points and business criteria on which to base their individual decisions. Emerson is committed to supporting small-format retailers with a variety of refrigeration solutions that can be utilized in most existing and emerging small-format architectures, including:

– A full complement of compression technologies
– Facility management controls and valves
– Copeland™ Digital Outdoor Refrigeration Unit, X-Line Series
– Copeland™ Indoor Modular Solution

We are actively partnering with OEM and retail customers to help create high-value, small-format refrigeration solutions. By combining refrigeration technology and component portfolios with design and domain expertise, our goal is to provide fully integrated solutions that can address a wide range of end-user criteria.

Introducing the Next Generation of Real-time Cargo Tracking Devices

Matthew Neidlinger | Director of Product Management,

Digital Solutions, Emerson’s Cold Chain Business

The global rollout of 4G and 5G cellular networks will deliver the high-speed, high-bandwidth capabilities preferred by the mobile device industry. But for those stakeholders in the perishable supply chain, this transition also will phase out legacy 2G and 3G cellular networks and usher in a technology shift that will impact their abilities to track in-transit temperatures and locations of shipments. Fortunately, Emerson has developed the next generation of real-time tracking devices that will bridge the gap between 2G and the next generation of low-power, wide-area (LPWA) 5G networks to ensure continuous tracking of perishable shipments.

What’s the alternative to 2G and 3G networks?

Most of the real-time trackers in use have been designed with cellular connectivity protocols that utilize 2G or 3G SIM cards. In many ways, these networks ideally are suited for the data requirements of the cargo tracking industry, which just need to transmit small packets of data periodically — such as live location and temperature information. Simply put, tracking devices don’t require the same bandwidth, memory and data transmission requirements of high-end mobile handsets.

That’s why Emerson’s GO real-time trackers were originally designed to utilize 2G and 3G cellular network technologies. Thus, these devices can be manufactured and sold at accessible price points without compromising their ability to perform their critical functions. With the sunsetting of 2G and 3G networks, real-time tracking devices will need to transition to the next generation of cellular network technology (i.e., 5G). But rather than utilizing expensive bands designed for mobile handsets, our new GO real-time Trackers will leverage emerging LPWA 4G and 5G network technologies that evolved from 4G LTE:

  • Category M (Cat-M), where “M” stands for mobile
  • Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT)

As the logical successors to 2G and 3G, these 4G/5G networks will allow the next generation of real-time trackers to transmit valuable sensor data while helping to keep real-time trackers cost-effective.

The next generation of real-time trackers is here

Our Digital Solutions business is committed to helping the perishable cold chain industry make this transition. To bridge the gap between 2G and emerging technologies and ensure uninterrupted tracking and help monitoring, we are developing the next generation of real-time tracking devices that utilize 5G and the new Cat-M and NB-IoT networks. The first of these new devices is already available: the GO real-time 4G/5G Tracker.

This release is part of our efforts to expand our suite of 2G and 3G real-time trackers with new devices engineered to enable multi-network compatibility. In doing so, these new devices will help eliminate real-time dead zones by providing coverage for shipments that travel between 2G and emerging 5G networks. Like our previous generation of devices, the GO real-time 4G/5G tracker provides the following key functionalities:

  • Help to monitor in-transit conditions such as temperature, location, light and humidity for up to 20 days of continuous operation.
  • Notify users in real-time via text or email if any adverse conditions arise during shipment (when configured with our Oversight software portal).

In the coming months, Emerson plans to release additional 4G/5G models that offer an expanded in-use life of up to 60 days and a reusable device platform. Our next generation of devices will be available in dual- and tri-mode network capabilities.

From 2G and 3G to 5G (Cat-M and NB-IoT) — Sunset and roll-out timing

As the evolving mobile device industry transitions to 4G LTE and 5G technologies around the world, our industry will see more 2G and 3G networks become obsolete. This transition is already taking place but will be in flux for the next several years, with specific turndown timelines dependent on the cellular carrier and global or regional preferences.

From a cargo tracking industry perspective, it’s important to realize that coverage zones may vary and there may not be worldwide conformity for some time. This variability will create complexity when trying to ensure real-time coverage of perishable shipments around the globe. Emerson is doing everything we can to help prepare the cargo tracking industry for this cellular network transition. Read our informative white paper to learn how you can ensure uninterrupted real-time cargo tracking of perishable shipments.



Pandemic Drives Changes in Grocery Store and Refrigeration Designs

Katrina Krites | Marketing and Business Development

Manager, Food Retail, Emerson’s Cold Chain Business


As essential businesses, food retailers were among the few sectors that had remained open during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Staying open meant they would have to adapt quickly to new operating protocols, which often included one-way aisles, plexiglass shields at registers and enhanced cleaning procedures. Grocers were also inundated with high volumes of click-and-collect orders, which tested their e-fulfillment capabilities and presented additional challenges. I recently contributed to an ACHR News article discussing the shifting grocery landscape and its potential impacts on store and refrigeration system designs.


Attempts to provide “contactless” shopping experiences were among the first areas of focus, as store layouts were modified to limit the need to touch physical items and surfaces. While these were originally intended as stop-gap strategies, some of these short-term measures have already become more permanent elements of in-store designs. In fact, new store builds and remodels will likely feature layouts and case placements that are designed to adhere to as many safeguards as possible and provide much-needed merchandizing flexibility.

Of course, this shift will also affect the type of refrigeration architectures grocers select to address these emerging challenges. Flexibility in refrigeration translates first into the ability to meet typical capacities, but also provides the freedom to scale up or down to meet fluctuations in demand — such as staging additional self-contained cases or enabling variable-capacity modulation in walk-in units that support click-and-collect.

Shoring up stores for click-and-collect

While demand for click-and-collect fulfillment surged significantly during the initial onset of the pandemic, months later it shows little to no signs of letting up. In fact, recent reports indicate a 23 percent growth in click-and-collect adoption from June to July. Many experts believe this change in consumer behavior will represent a more permanent change in buying habits — although the degree to which it becomes a preferred shopping method remains to be seen.

Fortunately for most major retailers, click-and-collect capabilities have been in place for several years. But that doesn’t mean they were necessarily prepared for pandemic-level order volumes. In terms of fulfillment and execution, this emerging business model presents a variety of cold storage, picking and associated labor requirements.

As retailers respond to the increased amount of online shopping, they will need to account for fluctuations in consumer demand and the impacts on refrigeration equipment loads. Refrigeration design strategies with variable-capacity modulating compressors — such as the Copeland™ Digital Outdoor Refrigeration Unit, X-Line Series and Copeland scroll compressors — will help retailers balance click-and-collect refrigeration loads more effectively.

Another effective strategy is to implement “dark stores,” which are dedicated online fulfillment centers. Retailers who operate dark stores essentially take load fluctuations from click-and-collect activities out of the equation, which may make it easier to balance refrigeration loads. Whichever method is preferred, retailers will ultimately approach click-and-collect services differently, depending on their local demographics and store design strategies.

Natural Refrigerants Remain Viable Among Emerging Options

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

Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions

I was recently asked by the editor of Accelerate America to offer my opinion on the viability of natural refrigerants, including CO2 (R-744), propane (R-290) and ammonia (R-714). Among the many emerging refrigerant alternatives, natural refrigerants check important boxes for owners and operators who are preparing for the rapidly changing commercial refrigeration landscape. View the full article here and read a summary of its key points below.

For more than a decade, natural refrigerants have factored prominently in the search for environmentally friendly refrigeration in both commercial and industrial sectors. We’ve seen the introduction of R-290 in micro-distributed, self-contained cases; increased global adoption of CO2 in centralized systems; and the emergence of ultra-low-charge ammonia, by itself as well as integrated with CO2 in cascade systems. As we kick off a new decade, we will likely continue to see these refrigerants progress along those established lanes.

Drivers for natural refrigerant adoption

Since their introduction, the drivers for natural refrigerant adoption have not changed. Most legacy refrigeration strategies rely on the use of high global warming potential (GWP) hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, and companies with sustainability objectives or regulatory mandates were among the first to make the transition to natural refrigerants — which by many are considered immune from regulatory-mandated GWP caps.

In 2020, the phase-down of HFCs remains a focus of global environmental regulations. From the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol and the European F-Gas regulations to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), many countries, states and regions share the goal of an HFC phase-down.

It’s often said that there’s no such thing as a perfect refrigerant — and that’s certainly the case with natural options. But natural refrigerants are among the very few alternatives capable of meeting some of the more aggressive GWP targets. R-290 has a GWP of 3; CO2 has a GWP of 1; and ammonia has a GWP of 0. So from environmental and regulatory perspectives, this puts them in a class by themselves.

Characteristics and caveats

With decades of field use and research to draw from, the performance characteristics of natural refrigerants are well known. But each option has operating caveats that equipment owners must carefully consider before investing in a long-term refrigeration strategy.

  • R-290 offers excellent energy efficiencies, but as an A3 (flammable) refrigerant, safety regulations limit its use to small charges globally from 150g to 500g. R-290 is a natural fit for small-capacity, self-contained cases that require a lower charge and are hermetically sealed at the factory.
  • CO2 is a high-pressure refrigerant with a low critical point (87.8 °F) that determines its modes of operation (subcritical, or below the critical point; transcritical, or above the critical point). It also has a high triple point where the refrigerant will turn to dry ice. Systems must be designed to manage these characteristics, and operators must have access to qualified technicians.
  • Ammonia has been used in industrial refrigeration for the past century, but its toxicity (B2L classification) presents challenges to equipment owners. Tightening safety regulations and the risk of exposure have led to system architectures designed to lower charges and move it out of occupied spaces.

Selecting a natural architecture

When evaluating natural refrigerant architectures, store formats and application requirements will often dictate the refrigerant choice. R-290 is well-suited for either smaller-format stores or as a spot merchandising option for larger stores. CO2 makes the most sense in larger stores seeking a centralized architecture alternative to HFCs. Ammonia is relatively rare in commercial applications but is finding its way into innovative architectures designed to mitigate its risks and benefit from its excellent performance characteristics.

R-290, from integrated cases to micro-distributed — For nearly a decade, manufacturers have worked within the 150g charge limit to create self-contained, integrated cases, in which the refrigeration system (compressor and condensing unit) is built into the display case. These evolved into a micro-distributed approach for small stores, where multiple units share a water/glycol loop to remove excess heat. This approach provides very low-GWP, total-store cooling while keeping charges low, typically operating with 90% less refrigerant than a centralized system.

CO2 transcritical booster — CO2 came into prominence more than a decade ago in large supermarkets where centralized architectures are preferred. CO2 transcritical booster system technology continues to improve today, offering an all-natural solution for both low- and medium-temperature cooling. Compared to centralized HFC systems, CO2 transcritical boosters represent a completely different approach to system operation and servicing. Operators must acquire technicians that are trained to service CO2 systems and implement strategies for power outages in order to mitigate “stand-still” pressure while the system is off.

CO2/ammonia hybrid subcritical (cascade) — CO2 cascade systems are designed to utilize CO2 in the low-temperature (LT) suction group where the refrigerant stays below its critical point and operates at lower pressures, much like a traditional HFC. Typically, an HFC (or HFO/HFC blend) is used in the medium-temperature (MT) circuit, where heat produced from the LT circuit is discharged (i.e., cascaded) into a heat exchanger and into the suction stage of the MT circuit. However, the recent introduction of ammonia as the MT refrigerant has transformed this configuration into an all-natural refrigerant option.

Safety first

With each of these natural refrigerant options, safety must be the primary consideration. Manufacturers have poured a great deal of effort into ensuring the safe operation and maintenance of natural systems with a variety of strategies, including pressure relief valves, specially designed components, leak detection devices, and proper guidance to owners and operators.

The global regulatory climate and trend toward environmentally friendly refrigeration will help natural refrigerants to proliferate along these well-established paths of least resistance. Still, there is much to consider for system operators, who must weigh the opportunity costs for selecting a natural refrigerant option.


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