Many of us will have heard of the Internet of Things (IOT) and recognize it as part of the digital revolution, but it may be unclear what it really means and how it is likely to impact the Food Industry.
There are many different definitions, but in essence IOT is about everyday objects and products becoming associated with electronic devices that network together, and with software systems to collect and exchange data with little or no human intervention.
The IOT embraces a wide range of technologies, including Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Near Field Communication (NFC), Wi-Fi, Cellular and Bluetooth all linked to networks that normally use the Internet as a form of communication.
So is this a classic case of technology hype, or more cruelly, a case of technology solutions, looking for an industry problem?
Many experts believe the food industry is ready to benefit from these new IOT technologies that have the ability to improve traceability, reduce food waste and increase efficiencies in transport and handling of food products. In particular one technology- RFID holds potential to address both the unique and not-so-unique issues faced by the food industry. RFID technology uses a specially designed tag that contains a chip capable of storing data about the product to which it is attached. Today the technology is highly reliable, relatively cheap, and based on international standards that promote easy communication between different device’s tags and systems.
While RFID technology has been used in the apparel industry for more than ten years and in livestock farming for longer, companies have only recently started to further explore its potential in food manufacture and retail applications outside of apparel. Select food distributors in Europe have begun attaching RFID tags to reusable totes used to deliver food to grocery stores to ensure accurate delivery and to track the totes through the supply chain. Other companies are experimenting with attaching RFID tags to high value food items such as meat, poultry or fish.
Essentially, RFID serves the same purpose as a barcode which helped revolutionize the checkout process at grocery stores but with four distinct advantages:
- The speed with which inventory can be completed, as it captures multiple reads per second
- The amount of information it can carry and its unique nature
- The distance at which it can be read
- It does not require “line of sight” to be utilized or scanned
A number of companies offer short range NFC solutions for industry and for consumer interaction. Avery Dennison, for example, has developed a credit card size temperature logger, the TT Sensor Plus, which can be used to track temperature readings throughout the supply chain. It can store over 700 temperature readings, at intervals defined by the user, and then be read by an Android smart phone, in a manner similar to making contactless payments. A longer range RFID version is also in development.
Avery Dennison has also developed the first RFID technology inventory tags suitable for use with individual food products. The food-friendly tags are capable of being accurately read in refrigerated and other difficult environmental settings. RFID is currently being tested by various retailers to maximize inventories of meat, fish and poultry, which are highly perishable, expensive and offer slim profit margins. Using the technology, some of these retailers have shown that stores can scan as many as 800 items in 60 seconds, greatly boosting visibility into inventory and providing vital shelf life information. Based on this initial success, it is estimated that the technology could help reduce food loss at the retail level by as much as 20%, by providing a complete picture of use by dates on display and in the stock room. As the FAO estimate that in industrialised countries 40% of food waste occurs at retail and consumer level, RFID technology could play a significant role in increasing sustainability. And that does not account for the roughly 50% potential reduction in employee work hours spent manually checking dates, that could be garnered using the technology.
James Stafford, RFID Market Development, Retail Branding and Information Solutions
Tel: 07831 373 296 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org