Applications for temperature controls have been around for a while, but thanks to the emergence of Internet of Things (IoT), these devices have become much smarter. For those in the supply chain trenches whose business models depend on keeping things at exact temperatures, temperature-control sensors are finally seeing applications on a volume scale in ways that were impossible before.
The devices can be used by many industries, including electronics, pharmaceutical, and other sectors, for large-scale industrial applications when temperature control is a crucial part of the supply chain.
Smart sensors, smart supply chains
The main application for IoT-connected sensors for industrial temperature-control applications involves the ability to maintain temperatures over every square foot of space in surfaces that can sometimes cover miles. Previously, temperature monitoring required human intervention to physically monitor thermometer readings.
Problems temperature monitoring help to solve include how temperatures can vary significantly across large spaces. Thermometers close to doors, for example, may register higher temperatures than the warehouse average. Thermal loads from rooftops can cause temperatures to vary beyond optimal ranges in some areas of a warehouse. Thermostat settings for the entire facility based on such a high reading could prove costly when setting temperatures for an entire facility.
“Rather than lowering the temperature of the entire warehouse to account for warm spots, wireless temperature sensors are used to create a heat map of the warehouse and adjust airflow to address the warmer areas,” Brad Walters, CEO of wireless sensor solutions provider Monnit told EBN. “This removes the need to overcool the entire building, which provides significant cost savings.”
The devices can monitor vibration levels of heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and refrigeration systems. This process serves as an early warning for possible system failures that have yet to occur.
“Sensors can also prevent another common refrigeration problem called ‘liquid hammer,’ a pressure spike caused when fluid in the refrigeration pipes is forced to stop or change direction suddenly,” Walters said.
The technology has evolved to the extent that sensors can operate wirelessly for long periods of time while running on battery power while remaining connected to an IP-based network. They also need to be affordable, which is why plummeting prices have helped to make IoT-connected temperature sensors attractive to buyers.A battery-powered module with multi-core processors, RAM, and flash components with many communications options can now be procured for less than $10 per device, PV Subramanian, founder and CEO of Visybl, said in an email response.
“Temperature sensors have become sufficiently cheap so that you can have many in one container–even one per pallet,” Subramanian said. “This is in contrast to traditional reefer temperature monitoring, which at best offered a few zones of frozen, refrigerated, chilled, etc. Additionally, these high-powered devices enable local logging and processing and edge-intelligence that were very limited before.”
Cloud connections are also huge factor, which can draw and merge data from locations with potentially thousands of sensors at each facility.
“The cloud component, in combination with cheaper machine-to-machine data, is a key disruptor,” Subramanian said. “While temperature sensors themselves haven’t changed by becoming cheaper, and more compact, they are more pervasive.”
However, more work needs to be done on the software managing the sensor data, Subramanian added.
“Existing software systems are not capable of handling all this data in real-time,” Subramanian said. “Once the software updates or gets replaced, adoption will accelerate.”
In many respects, temperature measurement with IoT-connected sensors can be applied to a vast number of sectors. “Temperature measurement and IoT isn't a ‘market’ as much as it is thousands of different markets,” Nick Jones, an analyst for Gartner, told EBN.
The application is also another example of IoT’s burgeoning adoption. According to analyst firm IHS, volume sales of IoT devices are expected to roughly double from 15.4 billion units in 2015 to 30.7 billion units in 2020. Besides temperature control and monitoring, IoT should also play a larger role in cold chain management in the future. As artificial intelligence (AI) is applied to the mix, the results should be interesting, indeed.