Controlling costs is always important for farmers, their restaurant customers and the companies that haul the goods from farm to customer. During a recession, finding ways to avoid product losses in transit is even more important to the bottom line.
One costly problem that consistently affects these industries is food waste caused by damage in transit. Now, inexpensive remote sensor applications and mobile IoT technology are helping to solve this challenge.
Food waste in transit: a huge problem
After farmers do the hard work of growing the food, about a third of it ends up wasted each year, at a global cost of $2.5 trillion. Some of that waste happens on the consumer side. However, the U.N. Food Program says that as much as half of all the temperature-sensitive produce harvested each year is damaged due to problems with cold-chain monitoring.
Besides temperature control problems, there’s the challenge of preventing vibration and impact damage in transit. Roads aren’t always smooth, and loads can shift, leading to shocks that crush items, break containers and create spills that compromise otherwise undamaged items. Even less-jarring vibrations can damage some delicate produce, which means the end customer gets lower quality product.
When food is damaged in transit, the farmer’s work and inputs are wasted, the restaurant buyer’s money and time are wasted, and the transportation company loses money on freight claims. It’s a no-win situation.
A new solution to food waste: remote sensors that monitor real-time conditions
With the right equipment, transportation companies can see the temperature, humidity, vibration level and location of their shipments in real-time. This is possible because environmental sensor technology has evolved so much in recent years that it’s now practical and cost-effective to install remote sensor systems on trucks. Some major transportation companies have already adopted these tools to reduce claims and improve customer satisfaction.
How does this kind of system work? There are four main components of a remote sensor system for transportation.
- Sensors. Small wireless sensors, each about the size of a matchbox, can be installed in trailers in just a couple of minutes. Each sensor has a long-life battery to power it while it reads conditions in the trailer and sends that data to a gateway.
- Gateway. The gateway installs in the cab, connects to the truck’s power supply, and takes in the data from the sensors in the trailer. The gateway then sends that data securely over cellular networks to the cloud.
- Cloud. When the data from the trailer reaches the cloud, it’s protected by Swift Sensors state of the art security that keeps unauthorized users out.
- Swift Sensors Console. Authorized users at the transportation company can sign into their Swift Sensors Console on their phone, tablet or computer to track shipment data in real-time. They can also choose to get alerts via email, SMS or voice call if a shipment’s temperature, humidity or vibrations are too far out of the proper range. With the collected sensor data, managers can see the full history of temperatures and other conditions along the entire route. Over time, the data can show times of year, roads and weather conditions that correlate with more risk of waste, so clients and truckers can find ways to reduce it.
Shipping data to solve real-world challenges
Let’s consider an example of how this kind of system can help cut food waste. With a remote sensor system in place, a trucking company manager can verify that his company’s reefer is at the ideal 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 Celsius) and 90% humidity when the driver loads several pallets of raspberries and strawberries for delivery to a restaurant 300 miles away.
Conditions are within range until midafternoon, when the manager gets a text alert that the reefer is now at 40 degrees and 96% humidity—conditions that can cause berries to decay faster. He contacts the driver, who activates the reefer’s high-speed fan mode to move more cold air through the trailer. Within a few minutes, the temperature and humidity start dropping back into the proper range, and the produce arrives fresh at the restaurant.
If, on the other hand, the reefer’s cooling system were broken, the manager might be able to dispatch another truck to take over the load. And if the berries were out of range for too long to be safe, the transit company could alert the end customer so they could avoid the risk of a foodborne illness outbreak.
What about product damage due to shocks? Transportation vibration monitoring, combined with GPS data, can show exactly when and where the damage happened. That can help determine if the problem was with packaging, loading or a rough road, so the problem can be avoided on future runs.
Better communication, more efficient planning, less waste
This kind of product management and information sharing can strengthen relationships between transportation companies and their customers. Trucking companies that want to take their customer communication a step further can give their customers access to the console data about their shipments, including real-time location data.
When restaurants know exactly when to expect deliveries and farmers can see that their customers received orders with minimal or no damage, they’re likely to stick with that carrier for future shipments. By reducing food waste in transit, saving customers time and money and adding value to their delivery services, transportation companies can help farmers, restaurant owners and their own businesses stay competitive even in challenging times.
Want to learn more about Swift Sensors remote sensor systems for transportation? Contact us.