WHAT: An Intelligent Thermal Pallet Load Cover for use in the Cold Chain
WHY: Avoid food, packaging and energy wastes associated with pallet transport
What is the current situation?
In the Cold Chain, pallet loads are transported by a refrigerated trailer van. In such a system, the required refrigeration temperature is set before transportation begins, and the refrigeration system then works at full capacity from the Point of Origin to the Point of Destination, not taking into account the actual temperature of the pallet load.
Current commercially available thermal covers can offer sufficient thermal protection, without refrigeration, for short transports of pallet loads. However, there is no way to check the actual temperature of the load, and determine exactly how far the goods could travel without refrigeration.
Aside from these simple thermal covers, pallet loads are generally covered in plastic packaging film and tagged with an Rfid tag, both of which are disposed of after a single use, generating a huge amount of plastic and electronic waste.
If a pallet load breaks during handling, generally the entire pallet load and associated packaging are unrecoverable. This leads to a significant amount of food and packaging waste. 'Corner Protection' in terms of a plastic strip may be used to partially solve this problem - however, the material generally used is cardboard, which offers only limited protection. Further, the corner protection is not re-used, and hence adds to the waste generated during pallet transport.
Figure 1 - Intelligent Thermal Pallet Cover
Figure 2 - Graphic Representation of WSN Temperature Control
What is the EET Solution?
An intelligent thermal pallet load cover.
This thermal cover will have aluminium or PLA (or other material) protection in the corners and on the top of the cover, shown by the grey areas in Figure 1, in order to effectively guard against pallet load breakage.The cover will also have a re-writable Rfid tag, on the outside of the cover, to be used for tracking goods throughout the supply chain.
The cover will have an elastic band at the bottom, in order to ensure perfect adherence between the pallet and the cover, and create a thermally isolated environment for each load. Then, with the use of a wireless sensor network (WSN), placed inside each thermal coat, the precise temperature of the goods on each pallet can be detected. This can be used in accordance with a closed loop control system to regulate the van temperature. Hence, rather than the van maintain the same temperature and cooling intensity at all times, this can be adjusted based on need in order to maintain the ideal temperature without wasting energy by cooling more than is necessary. For example, in order to maintain a target temperature (defined according to safety requirements), the refrigeration system may not need to be turned on until a threshold temperature (determined via an optimization algorithm) is reached. The behavior of such a system is shown graphically in Figure 2.
The increased protection provided by this proposed cover, as compared to the 'Corner Protection' method, will mean less food and packaging waste due to pallet breaks.
The WSN system will reduce the fuel required to run the refrigeration system. The thermal coat and precise temperature tracking will guarantee the correct conditions required for food transport while minimizing the amount of cooling required and eliminating any excess fuel usage.
The intelligent thermal pallet cover will also reduce waste associated with pallet packaging. As the covers are re-usable, the single-use plastic film generally wrapped around pallet loads will no longer be required. This will also reduce waste from Rfid tags, which are usually thrown out with the film packaging, by instead employing a re-writable Rfid tag that can be re-used along with the cover.
Figure 3 - Integrated System for Temperature Tracking