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From producer to warehouse to grocery store, keeping cold food cold during shipping is as important to growers, retailers and transport companies as it is to consumers.
But the process — known as cold chain management — involves complex logistical challenges.
Any change in temperature either inside or outside a transport truck can leave products unusable. Ice cream, for instance, must be maintained within a narrow temperature range to prevent it from melting. But, place it too close to bagged ice and the ice cream will crystalize.
Another example is produce, which can wilt, turn brown, or harbour harmful pathogens such as listeria and salmonella if not properly refrigerated.
And, with new traceability requirements introduced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency in January 2019, businesses need reliable and consistent ways to track whether their shipments were transported correctly and safely.
Calgary-based company Routeique is tackling these challenges head-on by partnering with the Centre for Innovative Information Technology Solutions (CIITS) at SAIT’s Applied Research and Innovation Services (ARIS) department. Together they have created a software and hardware platform built specifically for distribution systems.
It involves a tiny centralized computer, known as a vehicle brain, that monitors the overall condition of a transport truck in real-time, including engine performance, fuel consumption and even GPS location. Sensors strategically placed throughout the cargo area monitor factors such as temperature, humidity and whether the doors are open or closed.
“Taking bits and pieces of what we already know and trying to create something new — this is what happens when we think about innovation.” Chris Zaal (IT ’10)
“Partnering with CIITS has meant access to infrastructures, expertise and equipment not typically available to start-ups,” says Mike Allan, the founder, president and CEO of Routeique. “This community resource has helped develop software that cuts costs, improves transparency and accountability, saves money and reduces errors.”
Distribution firms are using Routeique to confirm delivery standards were adequately maintained — otherwise, a shipment might be refused.
“Even if the truck is the correct temperature on arrival, we don’t know what happened earlier on the journey, but Routeique can tell us,” says Allan.
In rare situations of customer illness, Routeique makes it possible to track where the product came from and where other similar products were delivered, making recalls more efficient.
Chris Zaal (IT ’10), Research Associate with CIITS, oversaw the team — which included two software developer students — that built the software and hardware. Zaal says creating Routeique was the first time they combined technologies such as ANT+, used for wireless communication, and on-board diagnostics, common in most modern vehicles.
“We are big fans of aggregating technology,” he says. “Taking bits and pieces of what we already know and trying to create something new — this is what happens when we think about innovation.”