With a quick scan of a QR code, the iMonitor traceability system can provide an accurate and in-depth record of the temperature and processes the product, and sometimes even its ingredients, have been through.
iMonitor food scientist Shakeel Ahmed says the technology could completely revolutionize companies’ ability to trace their products from farm to fork.
The small device can fit comfortably in the palm yet has the ability to store a huge amount of data. If it is not able to connect to the network, it will save the data on a memory chip inside until it can.
“Once it finds reception to another network it will upload everything from the box it is in. We don’t have to get the operator at the logistics side to remove it, take it back to the office, plug it into the computer and download all the data,” Ahmed says.
The data is transmitted on a Lora Wan network which is like Wi-Fi but works significantly lower in the frequency range and is designed to collect data from thousands of units over larger areas.
“We have tested these devices over 11 kilometers. Wi-Fi only spans about one floor,” says Ahmed. “There is a lot of in-house expertise here on how to best design the antennae to manage the limitations that come with working in food environments with radio. The limitations of any radio in a food environment is that it gets absorbed by water because a lot of food is mostly water.”
Ahmed says the iMonitor team is extremely good at making sure they have the right attenuation on the antennas and the orientation of the antennae is optimal as well. When developing this technology, the team purposefully chose to design it to work in one of the most challenging environments – a Kiwifruit packhouse. There is no way of practically controlling where the device will be placed in a packhouse, and due to the typical layout, there is limited space in between the pallets.
“We can’t control how a tired operator is going to stack the boxes. Our design is good enough so it can still transmit wherever it is. We started with the most difficult environment and worked around it, so everything else is easy.” Once the boxes are loaded onto a truck, if the truck has a receiver, the device can transmit all the data in real time. Otherwise it will log the data until its unloaded.
“At that point, the concept becomes quite interesting because we have multiple different companies that need access to the same data, and this enables that on the same platform,” says Ahmed. “The transporter needs to make sure the distributor is giving (the product or ingredients) to them in absolute perfect condition. iMonitor increases that trust factor significantly.”
“To do this, we have a software platform which not only has the ability to use the information that is transmitted on the devices and present it in a visual form, but also has alarms and alerts. If something goes wrong, the software is managing that aspect.” The iMonitor team have been expanding and researching products with Pure Foods and Hellers to monitor cooked food in real time. A probe is attached to the device to measure the cook temperatures and cooling cycles which enables them to optimize their manufacturing processes based on that data.
Ahmed says this means the QA professionals job is freed up as they are only required to check things if the iMonitor system sends an alert. This also means there is no room for human error. This technology was first used in the hospitality industry to monitor temperatures but Ahmed says there is so much more room for further applications within all areas of the food manufacturing industry.
“The software is designed to reflect what is actually on the ground. The reason for us to go into this much nuance and engineering is from our learnings from our current software.“We have similar monitoring applications on farms, supermarkets and spread right throughout the industry.
“Recently we have also put into place a complete food safety platform to manage the critical control point (CCP) of the manufacturing plant. We have data from this coming in and our new software can generate QR codes or batch codes that are compliant with the GS1 standards.”
Ahmed says these generated barcodes are the most interesting part of the developments for him. When a QA department carries out an audit on a factory, the auditor can scan the barcode and access all the information.
“It’s designed to manage the food safety and improve the quality and efficiency of the organization and we do that by better management of the CCP’s traceability and workforce,” he says. As a concept, this system and the accompanying technology has been in the works for about four years.
“Initially when we started out we didn’t find many early adopters. Now people are more open to that technology. It’s taken some time to break down the barriers. “I’m excited about how our hard work is going to be used in the industry. It’s fundamentally been designed to automate and secure the supply chain from mishaps.
“The opportunities are immense in the sense that it is designed to be a data platform. The cool part is that is all designed and manufactured in New Zealand,” he says.
“We’ve done our market research. This is a unique product with no parallel.”
Measuring environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity and pressure within a pre-set critical control range is fast becoming essential for pharmaceutical and healthcare companies in New Zealand.