Products are exposed to a multitude of environmental factors throughout the supply chain process, from manufacturing to storage. Temperature is without a doubt one of the most critical of these environmental parameters to monitor. That’s partly due to temperature’s ability to influence chemical and biological processes, such as food spoilage, degradation of medicines, and microbial growth.
Temperature also plays a critical role in physical processes that can have an immense impact on the supply chain, such as evaporation, boiling, and melting. Because of this, comprehensive temperature monitoring is an integral component of any modern supply chain process. Moreover, government agencies like the FDA require sensitive temperature monitoring in certain industries, making its implementation an essential step towards regulatory compliance.
More than that, closely monitoring the temperatures to which products are exposed is part of quality control. For instance, most pharmaceutical manufacturing operations rely heavily on temperature monitoring to control and validate their processes.
The Waning Role of Thermometers in Temperature Monitoring
If you are here, you’re probably wondering if thermometers can still be used to monitor temperatures in the supply chain process. The short answer is no.
The temperature monitoring needs of the modern supply chain are so advanced and complex that even the best thermometers cannot keep up. In the early twentieth century, supply chain temperatures were measured, recorded, and monitored by manually noting the thermometer readings on paper log sheets.
The modernization of the industrial complex saw the arrival of paper and electromagnetic chart recorders. These instruments used temperature probes instead of thermometers to record various variables in the form of electrical signals.
However, the devices used to measure and monitor temperature have rapidly evolved since then. Complex manufacturing processes primarily drove the innovation in temperature logging technology. The product themselves and supply chain networks have also become more automated and complicated.
For this reason, temperatures and other environmental parameters in the supply chain’s critical points are recorded and monitored using digital data loggers (or DDLs for short). These state-of-the-art pieces of equipment are fitted with leading-edge sensors, microprocessors, and remote monitoring features that allow organizations to monitor and control temperatures in real-time.
From Thermometers to Data Loggers: the Evolution of Temperature Monitoring
Again, thermometers and electromagnetic chart records were traditionally used to measure and monitor temperatures before the arrival of data loggers. Organizations would manually read temperatures off a thermometer.
This approach was somewhat convenient in some respects, as it was inexpensive, and any type of thermometer can be used.
The downside is that someone was supposed to take the thermometer readings in person each time they need to check the temperature. Obviously, this approach was cumbersome and inefficient and prone to human errors, and difficult to scale. It wouldn’t be practical to gather temperature data frequently through this approach, especially if it involves many monitoring points spread over several sites.
Manual readings would also be an issue if the thermometer were tucked away in hard-to-reach spots, such as inside a thermal shipping container. Opening the sealed container would expose the products to unwanted environmental factors.
Electromagnetic chart recorders solved the majority of the inefficiencies that came with manual thermometer reading. This electromagnetic device used probes to continuously collect and chart temperature data, reducing the dependency on human personnel. On the downside, these recorders aren’t easy to scale and automate, not to mention the sky-high operating costs.
According to Dickson, the advancements in microelectronic technology in the late 1980s and early 1990s paved the way for the introduction of data loggers. They were designed specially to replace manual measurement and recording of temperature data, immensely reducing the overall costs of environmental monitoring.
Digital data loggers are built for the task – they’re compact, fitting into the smallest of corners, easy to deploy, and incredibly versatile. They also pack enhanced features and functionalities under the hood, making them more capable than electromagnetic chart records and thermometers.
Of more importance, DDLs can measure and monitor a variety of other environmental variables, such as humidity, differential pressure, and CO2 levels. They keep an eye on these conditions 24/7, continuously transmitting critical data to servers or cloud-based software systems.
The data transmitted by DDLs can be accessed and analyzed in real-time. The system can remotely alert supply chain managers to excursions, equipment failures, and other problems that may arise.
Advanced digital data loggers are not just versatile and robust. They can also be configured to:
- Send data wirelessly via WIFI, cellular data networks, Bluetooth, or RFID
- Collect, record, and store large volumes of precise temperature data
- Send personalized alerts via email, text, or phone call
- Integrate with software applications to help collect, archive, and analyze temperature data
In saying so, digital data loggers have improved and more valuable capabilities that were not seen in thermometers, paper/electromagnetic chart recorders, and other previous temperature monitoring technologies.
For one, digital data loggers have enormously increased data storage capacity compared to electromagnetic chart recorders. That also means they’re more compact and therefore need less space than paper chart recorders. The incorporation of wireless transmitters means that these state-of-the-art devices can be used for remote temperature monitoring, making them more scalable and automated than thermometers.
With these robust functionalities, digital data loggers have really transformed the supply chain in the last several decades. For instance, continuous and precise temperature monitoring was regarded as one of the most significant limitations to safe delivering children’s vaccines to remote regions.
Combining modern data loggers and vaccine vials helped overcome this problem, allowing for a faster and more efficient vaccine cold chain. A good rule of thumb is to package the data loggers with the products so that vaccine temperature can be tracked and monitored throughout its journey down the supply chain. This also enables support personnel to precisely characterize any temperature excursions and issues that may arise along the supply chain.
Why Data Loggers are Better than Thermometers for Temperature Monitoring
DDLs provide supply chain managers with various advantages over thermometers, and they include:
- Precise data tracking and storage
- Increased traceability along the supply chain
- Asset protection, such as safeguarding sensitive items like Covid-19 vaccines from temperature excursions ultra-cold freezers.
- Easy documentation for enhanced regulatory compliance
- They are easy to scale up and automate
- Ability to generate actionable insights and reports
- DDLs can serve as effective alarm systems to alert support staff to temperature fluctuations that can hurt product quality and effectiveness
The era of using thermometers for temperature monitoring is long gone, ushering in the use of cutting-edge digital data loggers. They’re capable of tracking, recording, and documenting temperature data continuously with little human intervention. Therefore, these pieces of environmental monitoring equipment can play a critical role in the supply chain of sensitive products like vaccines, food, medical device, and much more.