Cold Chain Logistics with Bluetooth Tags
The cold chain industry is expected to grow to $350 billion by 2019 in biopharma alone. Now, Bluetooth tags are bringing cold chain logistics into the future.
We know globalization is changing logistics. It’s pushing operators to achieve absolute efficiency. It’s bringing new technology into the space and it’s initiating our shift into a fully connected world. Now, Bluetooth is coming to the cold chain. Can it revolutionize the way we track valuable assets in transit?
According to the US Department of Commerce, global losses in the food industry exceed $750 billion each year. More importantly, the department suggests that these losses come primarily from improper facilities and food safety handling procedures. On top of this, a further $260 billion in biopharma sales are dependent on cold chain operations. While demand continues to increase each year, there are huge gaps in cold chain logistics and temperature data logging systems.
The cold chain takes assets from beginning to end. This can include several different steps, and each of these steps only adds to the complexity of the system.
For example, harvested food will go through several different stages, all of which need to be accurately and consistency tracked in order to ensure safety and minimize waste. These steps may include:
- cold storage
- store display
The result of all these steps is a highly complex and often sensitive chain. On top of the general need to track temperature, some foods may be particularly sensitive to chilling or other factors. When each type of asset must be carefully and specifically cared for, it becomes crucial that temperature and environment tracking operates at full efficiency 24/7. This means automation from beginning to end. Whether you’re in pharmaceuticals or agriculture, cold chain technology needs an upgrade.
Basic cold chain tools and future possibilities
Common tools in the cold chain range from refrigerated trucks to smart tracking solutions. The first step is the mobile refrigeration unit. No matter what the goods are, they are always on the way to their next destination or the end-use site. This means there are always several tools in use. Mobile refrigeration was first put to use in the 1940s. Now, there are trucks, warehouses, and ships all designed to keep goods at the correct temperature. On top of this, properly insulated packaging keeps smaller units well controlled. These might include thermal blankets, vacuum insulated panels, vacuum flasks, or other insulators.
While these refrigerated units are much like the bread-and-butter of cold chain, they are very limited without the proper tracking solutions. Each year, more and more goods are shipped around the globe via cold chain logistics. They’re moving faster, more often, and in larger quantities. More importantly, there are more third party providers to choose from than ever before. That means expectations also grow higher each year.
Sensor data tracking helps shipping operators ensure their goods maintain the correct atmosphere and arrive intact. This sensor data is crucial for everyone involved. Upon reaching the destination, sensor data will likely be handed over to the customer as proof goods have been cared for. Should something go wrong, the transport operator can show that it was not due to any oversight on their side. Bluetooth LE, RFID, and WiFi can all be used for cold chain.
Modern solutions need better sensors and real-time data
There are two crucial additions active solutions, like Bluetooth tags, bring to the cold chain. First, they bring wireless temperature sensors. Already, beacons and tags offer temperature sensor data, and the recent release of Bluetooth 5 will enable even more sensors to be added. Increasing regulations on the transportation of sensitive goods will no doubt find several uses for numerous, affordable and reliable sensor tags.
Refrigerated trucks and any other systems requiring temperature data logging will also benefit from instant data. Due to the “black box” problem of many modern solutions, data may only be visible at the end of the vehicle’s journey or whenever an employee specifically takes and examines the generated data. Bluetooth tags and wireless temperature sensors support a powerful cloud-based system. Once the acceptable temperature or humidity level has been breached, these systems can trigger an immediate alert. Or, with planning, operators can set alerts to occur before goods approach maximum temperature, enabling changes to be promptly made and goods to be saved.
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For example: ten extra minutes of loading may go unnoticed. An unexpected pause on the tarmac may add to the increasing temperature of a load. Using active data and Bluetooth, relevant staff can be alerted before any goods reach undesirable temperatures. This means a reduction in spoiled or quarantined assets and minimization of loss resources.
Similarly, should a refrigerating device malfunction, sensor data can immediately trigger an alert, allowing personnel the time they need to fix the device or relocate goods.
Finally, the future of beacons in the cold chain will likely draw in big data and analytics to establish preventative measures.
The cold chain and the IoT: a bigger story
As with almost everything we do, the digitalization of the cold chain is far from a single story about a single use case. The initial goal is, of course, solving a problem: how do we demonstrate adherence to regulations? Or how do we waste as little as possible? But these singular problems are about to be solved (or, rather, absorbed by) the IoT. Bluetooth tags used for tracking in the cold chain will digitalize temperature data logging. They will automate the process of sensing temperature and other variables, sending data off automatically, finding a response, and triggering that response.
Customers are beginning to expect faster results, instant information, and thorough proof of an order properly fulfilled. As a supplier of pharmaceuticals, foods, and other sensitive products, managers can expect customers to also become increasingly picky. Globalization and increasing options means buyers can often take their pick. Being able to decrease loss and keep customers happy will be key to building returns in the future.
Where will we begin seeing Bluetooth for cold chain operations?
There’s no one industry that will benefit from Bluetooth-based temperature data logging. And there’s no one industry that is yet poised to lead the way in terms of uptake and adoption.
“Nearly half of the top 50 global drug products in 2013 required cold chain services. These drug sales amounted to $104 billion, and the overall cold chain biopharma industry is expected to grow to $350 billion by 2019.”
2016 Top Markets Report Cold Chain – US Department of Commerce
In short, industries relying on cold chain logistics in any fashion can expect to see growth in the number of solutions and options.
3PL will push Bluetooth deeper into cold chain systems
Third-party logistics operations are becoming increasing important to cold chain operations. Due to the complexity of systems and importance of regulation compliance, it can be far easier to outsource these operations to a dedicated service provider.
GPD compliance is of the utmost importance, and these requirements aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thus, the ability to automate as much of auditing processes as possible will greatly drive down costs on all sides. Compliance to international GDP regulations should be a given for businesses, and they should be leveraging better technology to make it simple.
In each industry and company, there will numerous constraints and complications. Now that serialization regulations can require complete tracking of each and every serial number, the need for reliability is extremely high. Hopefully, outsourcing parts of the process—or the entire process—to specialized providers will lead to better results and better technology.
Jeff Luthman, vice president for Indianapolis 3PL MD Logistics explains the effects of serialization to Inbound Logistics:
“The serialization element will affect cold chain, not only marking the integrity of the product, but requiring 100-percent accuracy with information flow to the customer so products don’t spoil.”
Comparing cold chain logistics tools: RFID, WiFi, and BLE
With Bluetooth, tracking becomes much easier and more affordable. Like other RFID solutions, Bluetooth tags enable an active system. They illuminate what goes on during transport by providing real-time sensor data. Triggers and automated alerts will be required to achieve maximum efficiency in cold chain shipping, and Bluetooth will be increasingly common in this space.
Common methods for sending data
Cold chain, much like asset tracking, commonly uses RFID, WiFi, or Bluetooth for active tracking. In fact, these cold chain systems are very similar to a real time location system and thus involve many of the same pros and cons found in general RTLS solutions.
The biggest difference between Bluetooth and other solutions? Cost. While the above technologies achieve similar results, the hardware creates a very large divide in terms of cost. For example, an RFID reader will cost anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000. This is the basic, ordinary cost. Bluetooth readers, on the other hand, are far more efficient and have a <$100 price point.
If you want more, we lay out the differences between RFID and Bluetooth here.
The next steps
Bluetooth tags are already being found in cold chain logistics solutions. However, as the need for complete transparency and active tracking increases, so will the number of Bluetooth-based solutions. This will be a quickly approaching need. Finally, Bluetooth 5 and mesh will bring many all-new possibilities to the industry.
Bluetooth 5 allows 800% more broadcast messaging capacity than its predecessor. This means more sensors than ever before. Whether you have humidity sensitive or ambient sensitive products (or anything-else sensitive for that matter) Bluetooth 5 can support enhanced oversight and tracking. On top of knowing the temperature of goods, operators can either use a complete RTLS system or use extra environmental data points to keep their assets safe.
Shippers of frozen food, pharmaceuticals, or any other kind of mobile temperature monitoring deserve a more modern experience and method of tracking. This is why affordable and multifaceted beacon-based solutions will ensure that temperature data logging will never be the same.