The application potential of sensors in refrigerated containers

Chilled goods are an area of growth for shipping companies. If they harness the opportunities provided by the Internet of Things and equip their refrigerated containers with sensors, they can offer their customers additional services and increase their profits.

Lufthansa Industry Solutions was recognized as a relevant player in the digital factory in the three use case clusters “Predictive Analytics & Maintenance”, “Traceability” and “Asset & Plant Performance Monitoring” by teknowlogy. According to teknowlogy, the leading independent European market analysis and consulting company for the IT industry, LHIND has proven to be able to address all related use cases in these categories.

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The handling volumes of chilled goods are increasing. Whereas, in 2014, 104 million tonnes of refrigerated cargo were transported at sea, this number is expected to rise to 123 million tonnes by 2019. Shipping companies are already benefiting from growing demand and are expanding their refrigerated container fleets. This is because special transports such as those for chilled goods put them in a better position to utilize their ships to full capacity and to counter the mediocre growth forecasts for container shipping.

There is a wide range of reasons for the increase in the number of refrigerated cargo consignments: One of these is that pharmaceutical companies are increasingly using maritime routes to transport important raw materials, only processing them once they get to their destinations. The food industry is also placing a larger emphasis on transporting meat and fruit in refrigerated containers due to increased demand in newly industrialized countries. This means that they can maintain the cold chain and, additionally, that unripe fruit can ripen during transport.

Shipping companies that want to improve customer retention across a range of industries should harness the opportunities provided by the Internet of Things. By equipping their refrigerated container fleet with sensors, shipping customers can offer their customers better services. Two use cases show how sensors can help shipping companies to stand out from the competition in the transportation of chilled goods.

1. Storing perishable goods more efficiently

Up until now, sensors have often been mounted on the doors of refrigerated containers in order to measure temperatures. But there is often a range of temperature zones within one container, making it difficult to store goods optimally. In the case of highly perishable goods such as bananas, in particular, it is even more important to maintain an exact temperature curve in order to reduce wastage. Placing pinpoint sensors on each of the banana pallets in one container can thus alter the storage concept in the long term. As a result, food companies can determine goods’ use-by-dates much more precisely by utilizing the storage method “First expired, first out” (FEFO). Food retailers increase their revenues as goods’ remaining storage life is calculated precisely during transport.

2.  Identifying damaged goods on the go and reordering them

Penicillin is still in high demand as an antibiotic substance. Developing countries in particular have a high need for this broad-spectrum antibiotic. When pharmaceutical companies transport their penicillin to other countries by ship, there is often a thermometer in the container. If the temperature in the container is too high at the place of arrival, the cargo can no longer be used – which is a huge financial and medical loss. This scenario can be avoided by utilizing sensors in containers. These measuring instruments continuously record decisive factors such as temperatures or vibrations. The data collected is then periodically made available to the ship's bridge by way of a mobile solution, which means that replacements can be ordered during the journey in case of emergency.

From the production of sensor boards to the backend implementation of solutions, right up to the development of apps – Lufthansa Industry Solutions provides companies using sensors with a range of solutions from one single source.  By harnessing the opportunities provided by the Internet of Things, we are paying attention to special conditions on the high seas in particular. Due to the high costs incurred by sending data via satellite, we rely on an internal network for communication between sensors, which means that radio is the primary means of communication and that only one element functions as a transmitter. Our performance portfolio includes the analysis of data in cooperation with our in-house experts at the Data Insight Lab.