By Vikram S. Puri, Inventor, Entrepreneur and Rotarian with multiple technology patents and 34+years of Supply Chain Experience
The cold chain is a temperature-controlled supply chain and includes all of the means and measures used to maintain a constant temperature for monitoring temperature-sensitive products.
The Indian Cold Chain Industry is estimated to grow with a CAGR of between 13% and 15% to reach USD 6.8 Billion by 2022. Apart from these numbers India is currently the world’s largest producer of milk, the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables, and has a good amount of production of seafood, meat, and poultry products. In spite of having a large number of agricultural produce, India is still one of the leading countries in terms of food loss and a sizable share of the population suffers from hunger and malnutrition.
The recently released India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) emphasizes the cold chain infrastructure and discusses the gaps and opportunities. The action plan reports that India has a large inventory of cold storage or refrigerated warehouses, but on the other hand, the remaining elements of cold chain infrastructure–pack houses, reefer transport, and ripening chambers—are largely missing. Reefer transportation is under severe shortage in India, with about 9000 vehicles in place of the required number of approximately 62,000.
As dependence on refrigerated trucking grows, it becomes imperative to achieve real-time visibility and controllability of all products during transportation.
The upcoming trends that need to be fully embraced by Indian companies are mentioned below. Let’s have a look at them individually.
RFID: RFID is a technology that uses radio waves to identify items and gather data on items without human intervention or data entry. RFID sensors/ labels can be equipped with additional sensors like temperature, humidity, and gas to map its history across the supply chain. As compared to traditional temperature data loggers, RFID temperature tags are as accurate and also offer superior performance because of quick data recovery and live access at any point of the supply chain. This helps in an efficient inspection and decision-making process for better inventory management and fewer batch rejections.
Wireless sensor networks (WSN) and Internet of Things (IoT): WSN is a combination of sensors, microcontrollers, and RF handsets. These components communicate with each other at a local location. A wide range of WSN is connected through the Internet to act as sensory organs for IoT. IoT refers to the network which connects various objects via the internet to transmit information for the purpose of object locating, tracking, monitoring, and management, with support of RFID tags, sensors, actuators, and other control systems. IoT is an ideal platform for remotely monitoring and controlling the real-time status of perishable goods across the cold chain to enable the First expiry first-out (FEFO) system.
Time-temperature indicators (TTI): TTI’s are simple and inexpensive devices, which indicate the time-temperature history of the products they are applied on. These indicators can be configured on user portals, devices and vehicles as per your requirements. TTI’s can be specially modulated to indicate and correlate a specific food product safety and quality status at any point in the supply chain, thus providing an effective decision tool.
In adopting the latest monitoring, control mechanisms, and automation in data capturing, the Indian cold chain sector has a long way to go. The key to such transformation is to localize the technologies to suit the scale of Indian industries and by creating flexibility in the system to accommodate and modify the elements of complex supply chains.