Selection of Cold Chain Monitoring Solution Series #3: Cold Chain Temperature Sensing Options

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

Hear CEO and founder of AntTail, Mark Roemer discuss the pros and cons of online GPS and USB loggers used for cold chain temperature sensing. And why BLE data loggers will become the most advanced and economical option as USB becomes obsolete.

Mark Roemer:

So what flavors do we have? We briefly discussed this already. We have online GPS loggers which are very nice, fancy, expensive to use, and have very limited battery life. There's a lot of demand for these kinds of loggers. On the bottom end, we have USB loggers and dongle loggers. Traditional, long time users want temp tales used in the majority of cases with shipments, but they, unfortunately, have a lot of downsides as when you are talking about connectivity, intermediate checks, and also cloud access of those loggers without human interaction.

So, in the middle tier, we have something we call the Bluetooth low-energy loggers which I think is an optimum between the two. They have wireless connectivity that doesn't require human interaction and a possibility for remote access. In addition, they have a possibility for a remote release of shipments and all at a very cost-effective price point.

So let's talk about online. What is nice about online? With a smartphone, you have all these functionalities that are basically on the pallet. This includes connectivity, more control, GPS position, and shipment location. Not only can you alert if something goes wrong but you can easily release a shipment remotely without having anybody from your organization on site. So that's all very positive. But of course, there are downsides. Because there's a modem in sensor that uses a lot of battery it also uses a lot of energy.

So you have a big device because it needs to last for three or four weeks. But another disadvantage of having something that uses a lot of energy, it also creates a lot of heat. So, if you create heat, your temperature readings are not going to be accurate. You need to solve the problem between creating heat and accurate temperature readings. So that's something you need to be aware of and it needs to be factored in the firmware that if you are trying to connect, you shouldn't do any temperature reads because then your temperature reads are going to be off and potentially invalidate NIST certification. While its fixable it will be variable due to the ambient environment, but you have to take care of making adjustments. Another problem is there's a lot of countries where it is very problematic to get your expensive device back. So then it's going to be a one-way shipment without reverse logistics being an option therefore a single-use device with a very hight cost. This needs consideration its use in the business case. You need to be able to figure out a way to either have a very organized, reverse logistics or just basically calculate that you're going to lose 25% of your expensive hardware.

Another factor is limited battery life. So when the battery is dead, you don't have temperature readings and your whole shipment will be disqualified if it gets stuck in customs. And then all of a sudden your modem has used all of the battery power. And then you also run out of temperature logs, which can be very costly because then you'll have to resend that whole shipment. So basically its not a really viable solution.

We consider the optimum solution to be Bluetooth low energy (BLE) because you will have a lot of the same arguments in favor such as more control. Even when the boxes are closed you still have access to the sensor in the box without opening it at up to 100 feet away. You have alerts with intermediate reads because you know where the shipment is and what alarm profile is used. And when there is an alert there's a possibility to intervene and to actually take action to move a box into cold storage when it's sitting outside for too long or do any other corrective action. The same goes for remote release.

The software that AntTail has is totally secure. So even if your customer scans the box, the whole integrity of the data is processed in the back office cloud. Its totally secure and cannot be altered or manipulated by the people who receive the shipments. This means you can do a remote release without having somebody from your own organization in place which is a huge benefit. And another thing we do is keep a total audit trail of all the interactions that have taken place with the box somebody scans it's automatically logged. If it's scanned by a gateway, it's logged. So you can actually see where that has happened. If people use a smartphone, we just get the GPS of the smartphone. And if it's a fixed location, we actually know where a certain gateway is. So we know where that box has been. A big plus of this is that because of the low cost of the BLE sensor, you have a much easier business justification. You don't need to do reverse logistics, you can, but you know, if you don't, you don't lose a lot of money. The temperature readings are very accurate and you have excellent battery life. And because of the way we set up our firmware, you never lose a sample because as long as there's battery life there the sensor keeps storing a sample, so there's no start or stop button. So you never run the risk of somebody forgetting to do a manual action. And then you end up with a shipment with no data.

Another big plus is because we evaluate all the alarms in the back office. We can change alarm profiles very easily because we don't physically set the alarm on the sensor, we do it in the back office cloud. So all the sensors are reusable with different alarm profiles. This means you can just use a mix and mingle them. So you don't need to do order 102 different spec temp tails because you want to prevent false positive alarms.

Is there no more business for USB then? Well, my feelings are that by 2026, they will be mostly be obsolete because of the arguments in favor of inexpensive and good quality BLE data loggers. It is so clear that I think large pharmaceutical companies will all change the USBs into BLEs. Basically, they are still using the majority of the loggers in the market today, but they're becoming obsolete.

It's all about the change brought about by new technology. And actually, USBs have more disadvantages than advantages apart from the fact that they specified in all the SOPs that are commonly used in the pharmaceutical industry. So, to make a long story short BLE is the way to go. You can do remote reads up to a hundred feet away. It's fast. You can do one 4G or networked gateway or one smartphone with over 250 sensors and you can even use multiple gateways. If you have a high concentration of sensors in a warehouse and have to process thousands of sensors, you can use 3, 4 or 5 gateways for very fast data collection. As soon as you turn one on it automatically starts synchronizing data for and you don't need to configure anything. It basically works straight out of the box, plug it in, no buttons and it just works.

So, what does this all come down to? If you want to look at costs and benefits, you know, online is fantastic. If you want to have online control all the time, online control doesn't really mean that if you get an alarm that you can actually do something about it, but at least, you know with Bluetooth. If you get the alarm, you know, there's somebody near and so you can have access to your shipment and actually do something about it.

While is my not be as good as online, BLE still has many more options than with the USB or dongle solution. Early alerting as possible with remote release. That's something people really like about the online solution, but it's also very possible with our Bluetooth solution. We don't have an online GPS. We have GPS, as soon as somebody reads with a smartphone, then we just harvest the GPS position of that as well and far more cost effective than a fully online line solution.

We have a complete audit trail of all the interactions so we can see who has interacted with the box and at a specific what time with exceptional accuracy. And we can also monitor whether or not boxes have been opened on the route. So we have an excellent way to detect counterfeit or theft, which is also very good. AntTail the battery life is fantastic from a very small coin cell that lasts about 18 months. And it's also now possible to monitor down to minus 35 with our sensor memory lasting up to two years. Other options go to minus 55C.

We have over 200,000 data points in memory, so we can have a sensor sitting in a warehouse for six months that has not been synchronized to our back office. When you are ready to go then we just set it up for you, then you scan it or you put it near a gateway and it will synchronize its data in a matter of minutes and you have six months of data In your back office. No problem. So this is basically the short version. So if there are any questions very sure Lorn will, very happy to answer them. You can reach him via info@assetmonitoring.net or check the www.assetmonitoringsolutions.com website. There are nice videos on the site from Uruguay, where you can see how easy it is to set up a COVID distribution using the AntTail solution.


Thanks for joining us, we are hopeful this has been helpful. There we be more segments in the next few days.

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