When food and pharmaceutical products are subject to less-than-ideal conditions in transit, the consequences can range from product losses to patient harm and foodborne illness outbreaks. Damage in transit adds to the global issue of waste. Waste also hurts producers, transporters and retailers financially.
Transportation companies can quickly upgrade their monitoring systems to get visibility into product conditions in transit, see where remediation is needed, reduce losses and increase client satisfaction with their services.
Understanding damage caused by vibration and shock in transit
Product damage in transit is responsible for nearly half (48%) of the total environmental impact of shipping. That’s with a damage rate of just 1%, according to Sealed Air, a producer of packing materials. More specifically, a food supply chain study by Polish researchers found that the most common reason for refusal of delivered products was mechanical damage in transit.
“Improper placement of goods” for transportation can lead to this type of product damage because of vibration and shocks en route. Excess vibration under these conditions can bruise produce, break jars and dent cans. One damaged food package can contaminate an entire crate or pallet if it ruptures and leaks. Damaged food products may not be safe to sell when they reach their destination. Even if they are still saleable, consumers are likely to reject them based on the visible damage.
Many pharmaceutical products also need protection from shock and vibration to be safe on arrival. However, in-transit vibration and shock impacts are calculated using averages, which may obscure the actual conditions products encounter. One team of researchers found that during truck and train transport, “cargo is exposed to extreme levels of vibrations and shocks for which the averaged vibration data are not representative.” In other words, the actual vibration and shock conditions for a given shipment are a ‘black box’ unless real-time data is available.
A few years ago, adding the equipment necessary for transportation vibration monitoring in real time would have been expensive and time-consuming. Now, transportation companies can add wireless accelerometers and vibration monitors to their vehicles in a matter of minutes. As these devices relay readings to a bridge for collection and analysis, they create a clear picture that managers can use to identify areas for improvement and reduce physical product damage in transit.
Maintaining safe temperatures for food and pharmaceuticals in transit
Proper temperature maintenance is another major challenge for transporters of pharmaceuticals and food. The stakes are different with temperature than vibration because breaks in the cold chain don’t always result in visible damage the way vibration can. This can lead to people getting ill from eating unsafe food or receiving medications that have lost their efficacy unbeknownst to shippers, retailers and pharmacies.
Improper transit temperatures are also a waste issue. For example, nearly 40% of EU food waste happens in transit, mostly due to improper storage conditions. Food waste has food-security and environmental implications over the long term. It can also have immediate consequences for transportation companies, with a single spoiled truckload representing tens of thousands of dollars lost. Out-of-range temperatures in transit create problems for retailers and consumers as well, by shortening the shelf life of perishable foods. Breaks in the cold chain can also lead to foodborne illness outbreaks and subsequent recalls.
For pharmaceuticals, cold chain management is a growing issue. Half of all pharma products shipped now require temperature-controlled transportation, including many vaccines and biopharmaceuticals for gene therapies and other advanced treatments. These are products that can save lives and improve the quality of patients’ lives. However, 20% are damaged by cold-chain breaks in transit, at a yearly cost of about $35 billion.
Transportation temperature monitoring, like vibration monitoring, is now easier than ever. Small wireless temperature sensors can be installed quickly in multiple locations inside vehicles and warehouses. That can ensure complete visibility into temperature conditions as products move through the supply chain.
For both types of sensors, a wireless bridge on the vehicle or in the warehouse can collect condition data and relay it to the cloud. On vehicles, the bridge can also provide real-time location visibility through GPS. Engineers and managers can then log in to a dashboard to see current conditions across locations and vehicles.
This type of network can alert managers in real-time when there’s a cold-chain break or out-of-range vibration reading. With this information, it’s possible to pull the specific pallet or pallets of products affected before they reach the market. This can also reduce the risk of consumer harm as well as waste caused by pulling undamaged products. These alerts also identify the exact location and time where the problem happened, which allows for faster, more cost-effective equipment repairs to prevent further product damage.
Transportation companies who implement real-time temperature and vibration monitoring create value for their customers by reducing waste, assuring product quality and improving the customer experience for end-users. This type of monitoring can cut transporters’ losses caused by product damage in transit and contribute to a more efficient, profitable and environmentally friendly food and pharmaceutical supply chain.
Learn more about wireless sensors for transportation and cold-chain monitoring.