When the electricity goes out overnight or during your vacation, it’s always a tentative hand which gingerly opens the fridge door. What has spoilt and what hasn’t? Is yogurt supposed to smell like that? 99% of the time, when a power outage lasts a while, it’s safer to pitch the whole lot. Even if something looks right – who wants to gamble their gastro-intestinal well-being on the greying ground beef? These fridge failures or power outages really bring to light the high cost of groceries. A fridge half-full of food can run in the ballpark of $200 – $400.
Now, scale up and imagine the morning of a manager at a Food and Beverage Service factory after he wakes up to find a door to the freezer was left cracked overnight – or heavy equipment failed. Imagine the smell and then the sick feeling of dread that comes from being on the wrong end of a preventable mistake which has snowballed into a catastrophe. It’s not unrealistic to lose $30, 000 + in stock from one undetected malfunction. And unlike you and I, companies don’t have the luxury of going through product to see if anything can be salvaged. Federal Regulations dictate that entire batches be pitched when temperatures dip below certain thresholds. That’s a good thing for consumers- no one should pay good money for an uncertain product. However, that leaves Food and Beverage companies with a never-ending problem of predicting mechanical failures, reducing human error, protecting their reputation, and monitoring sensor data in real-time, even after hours.
Preventing messes is objective #1 for manufacturing facilities, restaurants, and any business relying on cold storage. Aside from the extraordinary costs associated with removing and cleaning spoilt stock, there are also issues stemming from customer perception and disposing of the damaged goods. Many businesses may need to close while they restore their stock levels – and if the reason is known, the association sticks in customer’s minds. In addition, since bacteria grows heavily on room temperature foods, spoilt product is deemed hazardous waste and finding a legal method of disposal involves cutting through a lot of red tape.
How can companies predict early signs of equipment failure? Companies are learning to trust electronic sensors. First off, there are sensors for every conceivable application. Motion sensors, temperature sensors, light sensors, accelerometer, and barometric sensors are a few sensors which give intelligence to factory machinery. Sensors have been around for decades, but only recently have they been linked to software and internet applications. Modern monitoring solutions involve outfitting key machinery with sensors which relay a constant stream of data to nearby proxies and gateways, which in turn push that data to cloud storage. Software pulls data from the cloud and translates into human-friendly dashboards which display temperature and other readings through charts, gauges, and switches.
One example of preventative maintenance would use sensors within a Bluetooth Low Energy beacon. Bluetooth beacons are small tags which can be mounted to facility walls and equipment to monitor motion, temperature…etc. Within a fridge, a beacon would be able to alert management to an open door because of the change in light levels. If the door were to be left ajar, the beacon could then transmit falling temperature values directly to a smart device in the form of an alarm. These solutions can be so intelligent that they can automate certain fail safe processes. Temperatures too high? Activate the emergency coolant system.
Another example would be detecting changes in equipment motion. If a piece of machinery is rotating too quickly, or if the rotations become elliptical, alerts can be sent to in-house engineers to inspect the equipment for calibration and overall health. Sensors can detect movements related to vibration, impact, and inclination. Checking each piece of equipment manually is time consuming – relying on sensor data is smart. Fixing small problems today before they become costly issues is preventative maintenance and monitoring at its best.
As mentioned, FDA regulations are put in place to protect the health of consumers. They also serve to protect the reputation of businesses. The internet has given consumers a platform to toot their horn louder than ever before. Spoilt products can have serious implications for your brand. FDA Regulations are stringent, but keep the Food and Beverage Industry well-trusted by consumers.
Providing proof of compliance has been a paper-trail burden on most manufacturers. With smart sensor solutions, proof of compliance is automated into easily exported temperature history reports. Sensor solution providers are able to integrate sensor data with a company’s record tracking system. This would permit companies to use sensor-generated data to populate key information fields required by specific regulations.
Monitor From Anywhere
You shouldn’t need to worry after-hours that something might go wrong to jeopardize your stock. Owners of restaurants, manufacturing plants, and cold storage units should not need to be on call 24/7 in case of an emergency. Wireless sensor data can have many end-points so that no one person is responsible for monitoring dashboard data. By setting up an alert system for when vital data fall below or rise above acceptable thresholds, management and monitoring can be a passive rather than an active task. Since alerts can be sent at stage one of a potential emergency, the burden of immediate action is reduced. When temperatures in a refrigeration unit begin to rise by 1-2 degrees, a number of personnel can be alerted so that there is time to arrest the problem. Alerts will continue until action is undertaken to stop the notifications.
These alerts can be sent through text, email, voice calls, or good-old-fashioned alarms which don’t necessarily need an internet connection. Sensors are infallible, never sleep, and are active around the clock so that you don’t have to be, keeping an eye on the environment to give you peace of mind.