The Internet of Things can play a big role in improving processes throughout the entire farm to fork cycle
By Eric Simmons, General Manager of IoT & Wireless, Rogers Communications
The Internet of Things (IoT) – the connection of devices to send and receive information – is a hot topic in today’s world and is having a great effect both in our personal lives and in the way we work. From connecting your laptop to a printer down the hall, to using video conferencing for remote meetings, technology provides organizations the ability to conduct business more efficiently and more cost-effectively.
While connectivity may not be the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about the food industry, IoT can also play a big role in improving processes throughout the entire farm to fork cycle. Because HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) Compliance is a necessity for businesses in the food industry, it’s crucial the best tools be used during manufacturing, processing and packing, distribution, importing, holding, or serving food items.
According to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, almost 40 per cent of food is wasted during the farm to fork process, due to losses brought about by human error or inappropriate equipment as the food travels throughout the supply chain, all the way from production, processing and packaging, handling, storage, to distribution and retail.
Companies such as blueRover, in conjunction with telecommunications providers such as Rogers, offer sensor technology that can securely monitor, track, and automate your environment and equipment. In addition, solutions can provide you with data that in turn can be analyzed to make predictive, proactive and profitable decisions for your business. Users have the ability to view real-time streaming analytic dashboards on smartphones, tablets and laptops to better handle any potential threats instantly and more effectively, while reducing potential health risks.
Regardless of its eventual destination, food inevitably begins on the farm. The cultivating and handling of crops and livestock involves the constant influx of information to determine the best handling procedures. Animals need to be fed, hydrated and inspected regularly to ensure top health. Similarly, seeds need to be planted, watered and harvested at optimum times. IoT technology can be used to analyze patterns and signal farmers when a task needs to be done, or in many cases, the devices themselves can be programmed to interact and execute the task.
For example, the storage of livestock feed. Many farmers use manual gathering of information – they climb to the top of silos in order to visually inspect the food level and determine how much remains so that an order for more can be placed. If an order is placed too soon, you run the risk of spoiling food not consumed before expiry, resulting in a potentially high profit-loss. Order too late and you may run out food, causing distress and possible loss of livestock. In addition, temperature logs need to be kept and updated to make sure the food doesn’t spoil. Aside from the possibility of human error, there is also a safety risk for the employee who must climb up the tower and peer down the hatch.
IoT solutions can monitor and adjust temperatures automatically, they can measure food levels and determine when orders should be placed, or instantly place the order on the farmer’s behalf, they can compile and keep more accurate, digital records and logs, and they can use that data for more detailed reports, audits and record-keeping.
Cold Cargo and Safe Fleet
The transport and distribution of food items is a key step in the supply chain which can also result in profit loss if not handled properly. Food that arrives late to its destination can spoil and go to waste, and just as proper storage on a farm is important, it’s vital that perishable items be maintained at the right temperature during transport. HACCP compliancy for food onboard is a necessity, making it even more important to avoid spoilage.
Many current food distributors use GPS-based systems to monitor travel, which can then be accessed from an onboard fleet management telematics solution, but this isn’t always accurate and lacks the real-time information provided by an IoT platform. Some distributors have more than 1,000 trucks travelling at the same time, requiring a solution that is both cost-effective and all-encompassing.
An IoT sensor solution provides instant visibility to both the status of your fleet as well as the conditions of the cargo, such as temperature. This information not only allows for more accurate management, but also valuable insights to the cargo they haul, potentially saving resources and providing better quality products and delivery times.
Once the food reaches its destination, whether it is a restaurant, grocery store, or a warehouse, similar challenges remain in its handling, storage or HACCP compliancy. Most places continue to measure temperatures or inventory with manual and traditional processes. But human error can be costly, not to mention those resources could be better used.
IoT Food Safety applications exist to better monitor and automate processes and appliances in the kitchen alleviate the need for human labour. According to a recent Gartner report, connected kitchens will contribute 15%+ savings for the food industry by 2020. This is accomplished by a constant stream of information that monitors functions such as air and food temperature, humidity, temperatures in deep fryers, doors opening and closing, and water flow of sinks.
IoT technology is predicted to advance at an astounding rate, continuing to improve current processes and create new business opportunities. It’s no longer a matter of if you’ll eventually adopt these solutions for your business, but a matter of when. The tools exist for you to remain competitive, reduce costs, improve efficiencies and maximize profits.