Skip to content
Home » Making roads in the cold chain with data logging

Making roads in the cold chain with data logging

  • marimac 

By Natalie Martin, consulting writer for Mimic Components All images by Mimic Components

A few years ago a customer enquired about a data logger. He was transporting fresh fruit and vegetables from Johannesburg bound for Mozambique.

Bluetooth devices allow data exchange without the need for direct connectivity.

Bluetooth devices allow data exchange without the need for direct connectivity.

It was a small, independently owned transport company so cost was a major factor. He wanted to be able to manage a simple temperature data logger, to measure the temperature inside the containers during transportation as a starting point to taking corrective measures.

“Over the years we found a pattern to our data logging enquiries,” says Edwin Wakefield, managing director of Mimic Components. “Transporters are looking for cost-effective ways to monitor cargo temperature. Most of them want an easy-to-operate device to insert inside containers or refrigerated truck bodies (due to unreliable second hand parts or aging equipment), and others want to monitor temperature inside cold rooms,” he said.

“Another challenge is reducing cool air escaping from refrigerated trucks as a result of doors being left open for extended periods of time during deliveries.”

The data loggers would give users sufficient information to enable them to isolate at what point during the journey any incident occurred, how long it lasted and how bad the effects were. There are a variety of goods solutions at reasonable prices for clients to this market.

One solution comes from a pocket-sized cold chain data logger with a USB attachment. The entire device is factory programmed and specifically designed for limited use after which it is disposable. The logger contains a long-life battery, a beeping sounding alarm for high/low temperature thresholds and two LED lights, one red flashing light indicating a fault and a green light indicating the device is on with no fault.

A Wireless SMS alert data logger.

A Wireless SMS alert data logger.

“The cold chain data loggers consists of different models each with its own pre-set temperature range,” confirms Wakefield. “For example, you would need a different temperature range for ripening goods, chilled goods or frozen goods.”

As modern data loggers are designed with simplicity and functionality in mind, they are becoming increasingly popular across many sectors. “Temperature monitoring is customarily used for fresh and perishable produce, but can be extended to include other temperature sensitive goods such as high value items like art works, luxury items like wine and technical devices or gadgets,” Wakefield says.

Cold chain loggers can be used multiple times or once-off, making this option ideal for short trips within suburbia or as one long continuous reading during export, where it is dropped into refrigerated containers to monitor temperatures throughout the journey. Another benefit users would find attractive is that once this logger is switched on, it remains on and records temperatures uninterruptedly for up to 32 600 readings or when the one year battery life expires, whichever comes first.

This is a highly effective way to back-up the monitoring of temperatures in addition to the transporters system. It is also highly beneficial to recipients who want control of temperature reports with minimal third party interference and who are looking for an uncomplicated way of extracting data logging reports.

Incidentally, this cold chain logger can be housed in a zipped waterproof plastic bag that increases its protection rating to IP67. Price and functionality motive users to use the logger experimentally, for research or as case studies at universities. The accuracy range is decent with an overall error of ± 0.5 °C maximum (±1°F).

The ‘disposable’ cold chain data logger.

The ‘disposable’ cold chain data logger.

Another challenge is reducing cool air escaping from refrigerated trucks as a result of doors being left open for extended periods of time during deliveries. Our solution is an SMS alert system incorporating a wireless temperature monitor with a high accuracy thermistor probe. Up to three mobile numbers can be included in the setup configuration to alert users in real-time that temperatures are being breached. Once alerted via mobile SMS that a temperature breach is happening, the delivery crew can quickly rectify the situation by checking all doors and closing opened refrigerated body doors.

This type of system can also be effective in large supermarkets and chain stores. Although occurrences may be occasional, when they do happen, most likely it would be on a fairly large scale potentially putting at risk an entire delivery. Take for example frozen goods like ice-cream received into a temporary holding room at a large supermarket. No amount of PVC strip curtains is going to control the room temperatures indefinitely. However, if the cold room was monitored with real-time SMS mobile alerts, it could salvage goods from spoiling as warehouse management could respond immediately.

This system can also be used throughout the supermarket and can be configured for 24/7 use in the event of power outages, or failed refrigeration to frozen foods and other temperature regulated areas like butchery cold rooms and meat counters. It offers historical views of all SMS message alerts received from the free Software downloadable from Google Play and the Apple Store and works off a Frequency Band Quad-Band 2G GSM (850/900/1800/1900MHz).

The unsolicited opening of vans or truck doors during transportation appears to be an ongoing problem. While there are other beneficial solutions available on the market, we suggested a battery powered Bluetooth operating device where the temperature measurement is displayed in real-time to both the user and truck driver.

What separates this unit from other models is that it comes with three configurable inputs that can accommodate different types of sensors whereas most other instruments only have one type of sensor input. Another benefit is the large LCD display screen for comfortable reading. Our solution was to install the unit on the van or truck’s dashboard, configure the digital output as a door-open monitor and use the three inputs in different applications such as cargo temperature (to measure the temperature in the refrigerated body of the truck), petrol tank (to measure the remaining petrol in the truck’s petrol tank), and battery voltage (to measure the truck’s battery voltage).

The field logger-type units are sophisticated and typically require a technician’s skill to program and use.

The field logger-type units are sophisticated and typically require a technician’s skill to program and use.

The user can also choose to configure one of the inputs to the truck’s battery power instead of measuring the battery voltage. This would ensure that the measuring device is always on when the truck starts up as it would be connected to the truck’s battery, instead of being powered by the AA alkaline batteries. This measuring device can also be installed permanently in the truck, either in the main body or on the dashboard providing the driver with real time data at a glance. In the event of measurements exceeding any one of the three input thresholds, the buzzer alarm would sound to alert the driver.

As this measurement device has radio communication, the user does not need to plug it into a conventional computer to extract the data. Instead, all the user needs to do is to download the App to a mobile device (with Bluetooth capability) after which the Bluetooth will naturally configure the measurement device to the mobile device, extracting data from the measurement device by downloading it directly to the mobile device.

“Data loggers continue to offer an unprecedented amount of information to the cold chain industry as well as in other sectors.”

Occasionally cargo holding enquirers look for a warehouse solution where multiple cold rooms holding perishables, mainly fruit, require regulated temperatures. Here the well-known sophisticated field-logging device provides all the requirements; eight configurable analogs for thermocouples, powerful mathematical functions, USB interface, RS485 interface with Modbus RTU master or slave and more. This versatile and dynamic instrument remains one of the most powerful and simple to operate devices on the market at an exceptionally reasonable price. It does require skilled technicians to operate it.

The one thing no one can change is the ‘human factor’. Be it driver texting negligence, poor roadside technical repairs, or volatile unlawful roadblocks; all of these real issues are quietly discussed behind closed doors. However, the use of these instruments does demand greater accountability and helps to improve temperature transportation awareness.

With climate change on the rise, weather patterns are changing and daily temperatures are increasing incrementally. Data loggers continue to offer an unprecedented amount of information to the cold chain industry as well as in other sectors. Every type of temperature logger delivers temperature readings and operates as either a basic functional device to a more sophisticated instrument performing multiple and complex functions.

While this may not entirely solve an existing problem, the user will be left in no doubt, as to what the temperature readings were during storage or during transportation. Purchasable temperature data loggers, trucking and logistics software programs make managing of transportation so much easier. The cold chain industry comes with highly stringent procedures and protocols that you ignore at your own peril as you would experience when a delivery is rejected.


In addition to our data logger enquiries, an internet search offers insights from search phrases for trucking software that can be researched for further reading such as:

  • Lock cell phone Apps and actions that should be restricted to enhance safety and productivity
  • How software stops distracted driving
  • Reduce workplace accident-stop texting and driving
  • Fail safes real-time reporting and more
  • Truck dispatch software with tracking
  • Dashboard camera, routing and dispatch
  • Reefer and shipping monitoring