Cold chain technologies: A look towards 2040
Learn more about how today’s innovation will shape the cold chain technologies of tomorrow
The cold chain refers to a supply chain that requires the temperature-controlled movement and storage of goods. This includes the storage of our groceries, medicines, vaccines, and even data centers. Cold chain technologies have evolved immensely over the last three decades. As recently as the 1990s, the cold chain still relied on styrofoam containers for temperature control in pharmaceutical products. In the mid-2000’s temperature monitoring morphed into the use of temperature loggers to enable the continuous monitoring of packages. In turn, these tools improved global transportation internationally. Today, novel solutions around IoT sensors, tracking systems, and AI systems add value to the cold chain. But these technologies are still in their infancy and lack cross-functionality. In the next 20 years, these technologies will be driving efficiency beyond current expectations. Let’s envision what these cold chain technologies could look like in the year 2040.
AI enables fulfillment at the point of sale
Many companies face a challenge optimizing goods’ allocation, managing shelf space, and detecting & preventing out-of-stock goods. Different forms of machine learning will enable large and small businesses to predict demand for goods and services better. By allowing businesses to manage their inventory better, they will eliminate duplicate items, extend shelf life and prevent out-of-stock items.
More than 20% of perishable food is spoiled in the cold chain due to a lack of efficient temperature monitoring and refrigeration. This will be significantly reduced through effective demand prediction and package placement AI.
Automated cold chain technologies in central warehouses
In 2040, we can expect cold storage warehouses to become completely autonomous, spurred by the advent of advanced robotics. These new machines will pick and assist, package, roam and conduct many different forms of automation.
Dark warehouses, such as those currently being designed by Takeoff Technologies and Alert Innovation, may also become commonplace. Through the use of AI, these warehouses will be temperature-controlled and energy-optimized. For example, Therma gathers data from several pieces of equipment. They also utilize machine learning to allocate energy use. These features function both onsite and within the energy market through their asset optimization and price optimization algorithms which manage demand response programs in the energy arbitrage market.
Cloud integrates cold chain technologies for different stakeholders
Data is currently generated at every point in the cold chain, with Shopify, Snowflake, Stripe, and Salesforce connecting stakeholders and providing added visibility. In the future, this will expand to offer a full picture of the supply chain:
- At source: data is used to analyze supply & demand to prevent food spoilage
- At production: scheduling tasks, managing inventories & duplicates, and temperature control are essential
- At warehouses, continuous temperature data is generated and modulated, and zone allocation and workload optimization are decided.
- During transit: where real-time dynamic routing and continuous monitoring are generating data
- POS: data is used for shelf space, out-of-stock optimization, and managing perishable inventory
There is a continuous need for temperature and location data to be accessible by all the cold chain stakeholders. The cloud provides the necessary infrastructure for tracking such data across the cold chain and provides this critical information to all stakeholders.
The continuing evolution of transit
Efficient transport of cold storage items is one of the biggest pain points in the cold chain. For example, within the biopharmaceutical industry, transportation accounts for 80% of total logistics spend. This process will change significantly with the presence of technologies like computer vision and blockchain.
- AI-optimized algorithms will determine optimal transport routes between multiple warehouses, and altering these routes in real-time will become the norm.
- Electric and self-driving trucks will become a cost-saving choice for most freight services.
- The transportation of goods in platoons will increase transporting multiple items at once and prevent food spoilage.
- Computer vision will be implemented to check the quality of products at localized pick-up centers, and IoT solutions will keep track of conditions such as temperature and humidity throughout the transportation cycle.
- Blockchain technology will keep a ledger of all the transactions that have happened during the transportation process. This will enable a clear chain of custody and maintain accountability through the cold chain in the event of food spoilage.
In the future, cold chain technologies like IoT sensors will provide us with critical information regarding temperature, humidity, and location. The cloud will allow every stakeholder in the cold chain to access this data. Efficient transportation will allow us to manage perishable items by optimizing travel routes. This combination of technologies will be working in tandem in the coming years, overhauling the modern cold chain, driving continuous innovation, efficiency, and energy optimization at every stage.
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