A German consortium featuring the likes of Bosch is spearheading a new project called Logistics 4.0 to make shipping containers smart by developing and field-testing suitable new sensor technologies.
According to a UN Food & Agriculture Organization report, a third of all food is spoiled before it ever reaches the consumer; that amounts to 1.3 billion metric tons. A significant proportion of this is due to a loss in quality of the goods during transportation.
Striving to resolve this issue, Bosch – in collaboration with the U.S. food company DOLE – has carried out three smart container tests focusing on the monitoring and subsequent ripening of bananas. The bananas were packed in Costa Rica, and some of the packing boxes were fitted with wireless sensors. Once 20 pallets had been loaded into the smart container, remote monitoring commenced.
The bananas were then taken to the port by truck (around four hours), following which they spent two full weeks being transported to Antwerp by sea. During this time, Bosch’s engineers remotely adjusted the setpoint settings and fresh air ventilation rate. Upon arrival, the container was transported by truck from Antwerp to Hamburg (one day).
To establish remote access to the container, Bosch had to optimize what had previously been limited communication – 3G or satellite – from the container back to land. The Germans thus developed a freight supervision unit (FSU) to create an interface between an internal sensor network and external communication. At the same time, the FSU provides a platform that can be flexibly extended to assess any faults with the goods and the conditions in which they are being transported.
In addition to temperature monitoring, Bosch also developed an ethylene sensor technology. When climacteric fruits are exposed to a certain concentration of ethylene, they start to ripen. As soon as they ripen, they in turn produce ethylene – which becomes fundamental for monitoring their quality.
The consortium is now planning a follow-up project that will look at the entire logistics process – from loading of the container to supermarket delivery – as a whole. The idea is to offer new services in collaboration with port operators and logistics providers, whereby the goods themselves become a part of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Image credits and excerpts: Bosch Blog/Fabian Pursche