How to

12 December 2016

Choosing the Right Monitoring Sensors for Cold Storage Warehouses

Managers of smaller cold storage facilities will know that it’s always useful to look to their competitors for inspiration and advice. Business, after all, doesn’t always have to involve bitter rivalries; and big companies in the cold storage field often get to where they are by virtue of the various small edges they’ve developed over their competitors. Indeed, learning from the industry’s most successful players is by far the best way to further one’s own capacity to play the game (and, perhaps eventually compete with them).

One such big-hitter is Lineage Logistics, a company which reportedly controls about 25% of the US third-party food chain, and which warehouses and ships between 20 and 30 billion pounds of food in the United States every year. As its director of analytics Elliot Wolf explains, ‘I’m thermocycling several billion dollars’ worth of food. I wouldn’t dare do that unless I had a sensor every 10 feet, making sure we are absolutely safe.’

As such, he further claims there are three pro-tips for anyone considering the installation of sensors to monitor cold food stuffs: a necessary practice in today’s highly-regulated food standards world.
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Tip One: Keep ‘em Cheap

The cheaper the sensor, the more you can buy; the more you can buy, the more you can monitor; and the more you can monitor, the safer your goods.

That might sound over-simplified (…and it is). But it’s also a good starting-point.

Of course, you shouldn’t be investing in sensors which are such low-quality that they require changing every five days, or which don’t actually do the job you’re entrusting them with. However, if you can get a relatively durable piece of tech that functions adequately in the given environment for a long enough time that it becomes cost-effective, then you’re onto a winner. Still, this point must be compatible with the further top tips below:  

Tip Two: Batteries

Battery power, according to Wolf, has two big advantages over extension cords.

First, if your warehouse has a thousand sensors, each installed with a wire plugged into it, you’re going to need a machete to make our way from one end of the room to the other. But perhaps more importantly: batteries make it possible to position the sensors anywhere you want. Being unconstrained by the length of wire means no investment in extension leads and the assurance that you can keep the widest range of tabs on your equipment.

The batteries, of course have to be long-lasting; and preferably not too fiddly to replace or recharge (again, imagine how much time this would cost with an industrial amount of battery-changing). But, if they’re user-friendly and durable, batteries are certainly the way to go.

Tip Three: Good Reception

Finally, whilst a cold-storage warehouse can be a man’s best friend, it can also be a horrendous tangle of metal wires, grates, machinery and buzzing transmitters. Whilst those two facets aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive (at least, not for the engineers among us), they can diverge when you’re trying to get a reading from a wireless sensor.

Wolf’s third and final tip, therefore: make sure the transmitters you purchase are capable of functioning well in ‘an extremely challenging radio environment.’ Again, it’s simple, but it’s crucially important.

Overall, consistent, clear, regular readings are one crucial cornerstone of good quality control. It’s little wonder, then, that Wolf now sits toward the top of a company as successful as Lineage. But even beyond business acumen, when it comes to food safety in general, sensors are an incredibly important component in the monitoring of equipment which (oftentimes working 24/7) helps to maintain standards which are, nowadays, necessarily high. Compliance and confidence in cold storage operations can arise from the use of good sensors; along with, of course, other similarly necessary measures. 

James Stannard

James has a Bachelor’s degree in History and wrote his dissertation on beef and protest. His heroes list ranges from Adele to Noam Chomsky: inspirations he’ll be invoking next year when he begins a Master’s degree in London.