Prior to mechanical refrigeration systems, people harvested natural ice and used cellars to cool and preserve the perishables, especially perishable food for the prolonged time. There were other preservation methods available: salting, pickling, drying, spicing, and smoking. However, most of the fresh foods and other temperature-sensitive goods were available only in the local market due to their short shelf life and perishability. With the advancement of cooling technology, temperature-controlled supply chain or cold chain is developed; therefore, the fresh food today can be stored longer and transported to different markets across the borders of the countries. Refrigeration technologies play vital role to preserve and transport perishable food from the point of production to the point of consumption. In the past, a cold chain simply denoted single temperature warehouses and refrigerated vehicles. There was no awareness of integrating the supply chain links and, as a result, remarkable losses occurred every year.
In India, there are a number of government and private run long, well tested or trusted and successful cold chain supplies in the cold chain distribution business all over the country for end-to-end cold chain solutions. These cold chains always offer customized solutions for temperature sensitive shipments including consumer foods, pharmaceuticals, retail and agri-food sectors. The product segments which are generally catered through cold chain transportation include ice-cream, dairy products including butter and cheese, poultry and meat, sea food, ready-to-eat or ready-to-cook food products, confectioneries including chocolate and baked products, fruits and vegetables, healthcare and pharmaceutical products and industrial products such as photo-imaging, films, rubber used for manufacturing of tyre.
Advances in cold chain technologies
Storage conditions: Adequate storage facilities are required in the field of health care, i.e., the necessary refrigeration capacities and efficient logistics, from loading and unloading and the location of products, to picking or order picking, through packaging. Currently, in the best refrigerated warehouses, it is no longer necessary to collect information manually from temperature meters, as monitoring with sensor-based technology facilitates this data for analysis. There is also thermal imaging and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) monitoring, which analyzes the airflow during the cooling process and allows determining the optimal ventilation for boxes, pallet distribution and other variables within cold storage.
Transport and its conditioning: When transporting products that require a cold chain, vehicles and their correct conditioning are essential. This type of transport requires pre-cooling to a lower temperature than that of the product to be transported, to eliminate waste of heat, it must have the necessary technology and temperature control tools, and have backup systems that prevent the cold supply chain from breaking at any time.
Technological innovation and real-time information
To ensure the accuracy of measurements, technology has evolved into auxiliary devices for refrigeration and complete traceability. There are both target reading equipment (known as loggers) and real-time reading equipment (known as trackers or thermographers). These advances give maximum efficiency to the measuring processes, both with control and monitoring systems and devices, as well as with good software to control all logistics operations and tasks in the chain. Currently there are even cooling systems with natural refrigerants such as ammonia (NH3) or carbon dioxide (CO2), systems that extract heat from the field to start the cold chain process. Real-time monitoring of loads also allows to obtain data on location, temperature, humidity and other variables such as CO2 levels, or door opening, to take better control.
Increasing the capacity to monitor and control the cold chain allows timely corrective actions to be taken when a critical variable leaves the ranges established for quality control, thus offering the opportunity to avoid losses or to reduce losses, while the registration itself, the log of conditions throughout the chain, allows the parties involved to validate that the products were kept in the required conditions.
Radio frequency identification device (RFID)
Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID) is totally based on Radio Frequency (RF) signal to make an automatic identification on moving products as well exchange digital info. RFID majorly consists of three parts, including readers, antennas and tags which are shown in Fig. 1.
Wireless sensors based on the Internet of Things (IoT)
In the construction of cold chain logistics, intelligent system based on 5G (ubiquitous) Internet of Things (Fig. 2) is an emerging technology. The Internet of Things is penetrating into the logistics field with its technical advantages and changing the original industry form. This provides a scientific basis for logistics decision-making for wholesalers and retailers and has important application value for improving the logistics efficiency of the whole cold chain.
Cold chain management based on big data technology
In order to reduce the large amount of inventory and waste caused by excessive blind production, needs to use big data technology and statistical forecasting technology to guide macro production. As a micro enterprise, it is necessary to actively use operations research technology to make optimal decisions on cold chain investment, cold chain warehousing, inventory, distribution routes, and time. In optimizing decisions, pay particular attention to the relationship between cold chain investment, temperature control, and carbon emissions. Relationship, not only strengthens investment and temperature control, but also avoids carbon emissions caused by excessive cooling.
The hardware structure of the system is shown in Fig. 3. The system uses the sink node to act as a time reference point and sends synchronization information containing the current clock reading. After each node receives the synchronization information, it estimates its own time delay and corrects the clock value once. When receiving the control command sent by the sink node, the node in the dormant state is immediately awakened and the clock synchronization is completed, and then the data collection and transmission are completed.
Data analytics and decision-making
Cold chain data analytics and decision making emphasised mainly on capturing temperature monitoring in cold supply chains and identify the applications that vary according to the parameters, which are to be measured, such as the control of environmental, surface or core temperature of the convey products. It is also observe that some applications support the temperature control at a company level (entrance control, process control, final inspection) while other solutions focus on control of the temperature across the entire supply chain from production to the retailer or end consumer. However, the actual implementation in practice is lagging because of different intra- and inter-organizational challenges.
Thus, the advantages from use of real-time tracking and tracing have been:
- Reduction of costs for logistic operations, receiving and handling expenses
- Minimization of product value loss and maximization of total value of items
- Supporting decision-making related to optimal production, distribution planning and storage
- Identification and isolation of quality failures, identification of risks and taking real time actions to mitigate such risks.
The professional functions of cold chain related companies must actively seek to achieve win-win and common prosperity in cooperative alliances and strengthen communication and connection with various advanced information technologies and information sharing, which will reduce the cooling cost of the entire cold chain link. In addition, the rapid response of the entire cold chain and intelligent high-end services have been realized in order to improve the quality of fresh products and promote consumption upgrades in the process of reducing the loss and waste of fresh products and their carbon emissions.
Dr. (Prof.) D.B. Jani received Ph.D. in Thermal Science (Mechanical Engineering) from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee. Currently he is a recognized Ph.D. Supervisor at Gujarat Technological University (GTU). He has published more than 180 Research Articles in reputed International Conferences and Journals. He has also published 5 reputed books in the area of thermal engineering. Presently, he is an Associate Professor at GEC, Dahod, Gujarat Technological University, GTU, Ahmedabad (Education Department, State of Gujarat, India). His area of research is Desiccant cooling, ANN, TRNSYS, and Exergy.