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Cold Storage Automation Assures Food Safety, Cuts Costs

Retail cold storage

Keeping food at the right temperature has always been a challenge, particularly for retailers with dozens of freezers and refrigerators in each of their stores. Most cold storage equipment simply isn’t up to the task, requiring managers to check their performance frequently.

As-a-service cold storage automation provides a timesaving solution. New technology gives retailers the shelf-level temperature readings they need to track equipment performance in real time, reduce labor costs, and simplify compliance with government regulations.

Three main drivers for automated temperature detection are compliance, cost, and quality.

  • Cost
    Manual checks drain resources, costing retailers as they pay their workers to perform the checks and deal with any maintenance issues they uncover.
  • Quality
    When a refrigeration unit malfunctions, there’s a good chance food will spoil by the time the problem is discovered. This spoilage results in waste—or worse, customers might purchase compromised products.
  • Compliance
    In many countries, governments have strict guidelines for how to maintain perishable food items, often with a narrow window of required temperatures. But with manual monitoring there’s ample room for error.

Cold storage as-a-service offers retailers the equipment, oversight, and support to tackle these issues. UST, a leader in digital transformation solutions, developed UST Cold Truth, an all-in-one solution that provides hands-off detection and triggers automatic alerts when temperatures stray outside prescribed limits.

Retail Cold Storage Automation at Work

Mydin, the largest grocery retailer in Malaysia, is just one example of the solution in action. The chain uses the solution to monitor refrigeration equipment in its flagship store in Penang.

Before deploying Cold Truth, store managers needed to monitor each refrigerator or freezer in person at least three times a day. These manual checks pulled them away from other duties and left temperature logs vulnerable to human error, putting the store at greater risk of overlooking a problem or failing an inspection.

To eliminate this time-consuming process, compact, low-cost sensors were placed on multiple shelves inside each unit. When a node registers a reading that’s out of range, the store manager receives an instant alert. Plus, Mydin can retrieve all past data from the cloud and send it to health inspectors and auditors as needed.

The retailer realized immediate benefits: Mydin expects the solution to reduce labor costs per store by about 19%. “From day one, you get that benefit because a manual task has become automated,” says Subho Bandyopadhyay, general manager of emerging digital technology solutions at UST.

And over time, the solution provides an accurate picture of asset health, helping companies like Mydin to assess the success of their equipment vendors.

“It helps the project management team, which is procuring billions of dollars of equipment from various manufacturers,” Bandyopadhyay continues. “Having these reports both factors into their buying decisions and determine the health of the machines.”

Because real-time monitoring allows store personnel to respond immediately if there’s a problem with equipment, Mydin also says the solution will reduce food spoilage by 36%.

.@USTGlobal Cold Truth makes cold-storage #automation more pervasive and accessible, bringing efficiency benefits to large #retail chains and smaller convenience stores alike. via @insightdottech

From Refrigeration Units to the Cloud

The solution includes battery-powered probes in each unit, ideally one at each shelf level. These sensors gather and sort the data—temperature readings over a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) or Wi-Fi at customizable intervals. The system gateway aggregates the data and sends it to a private or public cloud platform.

“The BLE gateway is important because Wi-Fi connectivity is often poor inside large retail stores,” says Bandyopadhyay. “Rather than trying to connect every node to the cloud, the gateway pulls the data from multiple pieces of equipment and pushes it out together.”

Once data reaches the cloud, managers can access it through a web dashboard or mobile application. Retailers can set the system to generate alerts when power fails or temperatures fluctuate outside a particular range—and those alerts can even be sent directly to a service desk, prompting technicians to address the issue.

The solution is offered as-a-service, bundling hardware and software services with installation, implementation, software integration, and ongoing support, lowering capital outlay.

Building for the Future

UST Cold Truth solution incorporates Intel® technology, providing a platform for today and new capabilities for tomorrow. “The Intel® NUC-based gateway provides optimal system performance plus the ability to add new functionality in the future,” says Bandyopadhyay. “For example, predictive machine maintenance is a direction we’re headed, offering a significant future-proof advantage by reducing the total cost of ownership.”

UST Cold Truth makes cold-storage automation more common and accessible, bringing efficiency benefits to large retail chains and smaller convenience stores alike.

“Every size retailer is within the scope of deployment, whether it’s a gas station with a few dozen refrigeration units or a larger grocery store with many more,” Bandyopadhyay says. Applications will reach far beyond grocery retail. For example, a dairy farm is currently testing the solution, and there are potential use cases in medical settings, property management, and more. The possibilities are truly endless.

About the Author

Jessica Leigh Brown is a writer focused on applications of IoT and emerging technologies in education. As a freelance journalist, her work has appeared in more than a dozen trade and consumer magazines, and she enjoys working with top technology companies to create content such as white papers and case studies.

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