IoT and the food industry: added value right along the chain

One of the main aspects of our diverse societies is food, cuisine and foodstuff production, distribution and supply. In short, any issues concerning what we eat.

And because feeding yourself is a preeminent need in society, it could not be immune to automation as there are many areas in which sensors and data exchange and processing systems can be extremely handy in making improvements.

A smarter kitchen

Refrigerators that “know” what’s inside them, and can even shop more directly online without any human intervention when they “see” what’s about to run out, are no longer a novelty that amazes people.

However, if the food itself can “say” what condition it is in using built-in sensors, perhaps that is a little more surprising. This will be possible using small sensors embedded in food packaging, for example, which will tell people which foodstuffs they need to eat before they go off or whether they are outside the optimal temperature range or humidity conditions for storage.

The transport chain

The importance of not breaking the cold chain, for instance, hitherto depended on refrigeration systems which were put on “automatic pilot” by programming them at a certain temperature and maintaining it. This was done without knowing whether it was the right temperature for each product (if several are combined in the same load) and whether it was kept constant all the time.

Small sensors and increasingly simple and inexpensive cooling systems mean the responsibility for maintaining temperature can be shifted to the boxes containing the food, thus providing an individualised environment based on the product to be stored.

Smart and connected thermostats can monitor temperature and also notify via wireless connection if there is a problem which means it cannot be maintained. This means action can be taken to, for example, replace packaging if so required and thus prevent irreparable loss of goods.

Another facility provided by connected sensors is automated stock control. With no need for operators to enter any information by hand, these sensors can report stock to a central system which handles automated requests when it falls below a predefined level. They also make it possible to monitor the condition of perishables to learn which ones have to be put on sale well in advance of their best-before date.

Optimisation thus means less merchandise has to be thrown away with all the consequent losses.

Better product quality guarantee

Tracking systems using embedded tags enable packers and distributors to find out all the details and the route taken by the food. This greatly improves logistics (implementation of a GPS tracking unit for each box or even for each item in the load makes for highly customised tracking).

This means the consumer can pinpoint exactly where what they are going to eat has been produced. This added value is also a sales pitch so that the retailer gains from this enhanced traceability as well.

Improved production automation

Renowned French vineyards are already using flotillas of drones to irrigate fields and dispense plant health products. While until now agricultural care has been carried out “in bulk”, in the near future the implementation of humidity and other sensors will mean irrigation and other care procedures can be conducted selectively.

This will be beneficial for producers due to water and other resource savings together with streamlined production for greater profits.

Likewise, this use of IoT can be extrapolated to farm animal husbandry, for example through weight sensors to monitor their growth and change their diet as needed, thus maximising production and streamlining resource usage.

The introduction of sensor technology for the food industry still has a long way to go even though it has already taken its first steps. If you are part of this sector, take the plunge and come and see the technology industry at the next IoT Solutions World Congress to be held in Barcelona on 29-31 October.

You and the technology sector are sure to come up with a thousand more ideas than the ones in this article.

Pedro Mier

Pedro Mier holds a degree in Telecommunications Engineer ing from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, MBA from ESADE and PADE from IESE. He is currently President of AMETIC (Association of Electronics, Information Technology and Telecommunications Companies of Spain), Shareholder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of TRYO Aerospace & Electronics, Board Member of the Premo Group and Committee of CTTC. member of Space Angels Network and Member of the Sc ientific Advisory