Tough Technology Helps Keep Cold Chain Operations From Freezing Up

Some products absolutely must be kept at low temperatures while they are in transit and being stored. The science of maintaining low temperatures has been advanced so that products like foods and pharmaceuticals are kept at the correct temperature while in storage and transit or until they are ready to be consumed. However, those low temperatures are not always friendly to the people who handle those goods and extreme temperatures can adversely affect the electronic equipment they use. The effects of frigid temps on electronics can be detrimental to the equipment and if it fails, can cause disruption in the supply chain.

Regulations like the Food Safety Modernization Act  (FSMA) demands information about products be kept up to date even while they are being stored in chilled compartments. As food is transported, it must undergo real-time monitoring, tracking and reporting on internal temps, inventory management, and any number of other critical tasks, most of which require the use of some kind of communicating computing device. There’s no shortage of mobile products like smartphones, tablets, and laptops that under more normal conditions can be pressed into service and perform adequately. However, making use of consumer grade technology under adverse conditions presents issues for both the user and the equipment.

Marwan Mohey El Dien, CEO of Maryland Packaging uses his smartphone but explains, “It gets difficult because the warehouses will get very cold and make it tough to quickly type out an email, send a company wide message or even take notes on an issue I noticed with production. I’ve used gloves specialized for touchscreens, but you need to make sure they can really work well on mobile devices.” The construction of the device’s screen plays a part in the ability to work using gloves and in most cases enterprise-ready ruggedized tablets will perform better when used with gloves compared to consumer units.

Extreme temps can also affect the ability to use mobile units when moisture finds its way into devices that are not sealed against liquids and humidity. When a unit is carried from outdoors with normal temperatures and relatively high humidity into a refrigerated environment, moisture can condense inside the unit, which can make it difficult to read the screen. Juan Leal of uses his consumer grade smartphone in his work and relates, “One day, after carrying and moving boxes in the freezer my phone went missing. I could not find it anywhere at home. Upon reaching work, I found the phone in the freezer. I apparently left it on a box the day before. After turning it on, I started seeing moisture building up inside the screen and camera lens.” Under types of challenging conditions condensation can even cause physical damage to electronic parts.

Real time communication is important to keeping product information updated and mobile operations rely on good connectivity. Although, cold storage and shipping environments are notoriously unfriendly to cellular connectivity. Vijay Goel of chefalytics lives with these restrictions and explains, “Our building is old and in an industrial area so broadband speeds are slow and expensive. Add thick walls, stainless steel all over the place, and heavy refrigerator doors and the signal is unreliable.” Tablets and laptops designed for use in inhospitable environments can perform better and provide connectivity because of their specially designed antennae, whereas consumer grade equipment simply isn’t designed to cope with these kinds of unfriendly conditions.

The combination of environmental conditions that make up the cold chain industry are necessities to the care and delivery of perishable foods as well as compliance with government regulations, but are unfriendly to standard mobile devices. Ruggedized enterprise-ready tablets and laptops are designed to withstand these conditions and perform efficiently, delivering low failure rates that mean less downtime and better supply chain performance.

For more information on the features and performance to consider in cold chain and other challenging work environments, read the whitepaper,  The True Cost of Failure.