The first artificial refrigeration system was built in 1834. Prior to its invention, the only form of cold storage was the icehouse, which had been used in ancient marketplaces in various forms since 1700 B.C. The subsequent invention and widespread adoption of the fridge was nothing short of a revolution, forming the basis for what is now one of the most sophisticated supply chains ever conceived: the cold chain. Its next phase, digitalization, is already proving to be the most transformative move for the industry.

Digitalization has put the world on the brink of a technological paradigm shift that is impacting the way we live, work, and socialize. The evidence is all around us, from self-driving cars to software discovering new medicine. The scale, scope, and complexity of this transformation is set to have a compelling impact on the cold chain.

Fridges have become such a ubiquitous and integral part of our lives, from managing temperature of produce to the cold storage of life-saving medicines; if they stop working, the chain breaks down. If you’re responsible for managing many refrigerators — in the case of major retailers, hundreds of thousands of them — this is a costly process. Centralized, overworked teams of maintenance engineers have to manage a deluge of alerts with absolutely no way to prioritize. Inevitably this leads to failures such as melted ice and irreparably damaged stock. Add that up over many thousands of faulty fridges and you’re losing a lot of food. Even after a fault is identified, the engineer called out to assess the problem might require multiple visits in order to identify and then solve the problem.

The Benefits of a Digitalized Cold Chain

Digitalization is enabling the industry to move away from manual maintenance and inefficient energy consumption to a sleeker, smarter infrastructure with automated work orders and lower energy demand. By connecting refrigeration estates to an Internet of Things (IoT) platform, hundreds of thousands of data points can be monitored and managed in real time, leading to a vast array of actionable insights that prioritize the issues with the most impactful consequences first, such as impact on the customer, revenues, or energy consumption. With the right IoT solution, there is not a requirement for retailers to update their hardware; digitalization can now be used to integrate legacy devices onto the platform, allowing for a simpler, more economical transition to digitalized cold storage.

Systems can now automatically detect faults and alert engineers quickly using real time performance efficiency data and integrated engineer dispatch systems. Digitalizing system maintenance can lead to reductions in reactive maintenance calls, reductions in overall maintenance costs, and significantly improved availability, energy efficiency, and performance of assets. The effects of this are huge for the cold chain, not just preventing sensitive stock from being affected by system downtime, but actually improving the quality and shelf-life of food through temperature optimization. Digitalization of refrigeration systems have been shown to lead to a 49 percent reduction in refrigerated stock loss.

Refrigeration is going through nothing short of a revolution. Just like in the 19th century when the artificial refrigeration device was first invented, digitalization completely overhauls the way in which we utilize cold storage. From decreased maintenance costs and more efficient use of energy to increased shelf-life and enhanced customer experience, the cold chain is going digital.

Publication date: 7/8/2019

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