Desert Farms trials a sophisticated, yet easy-to-use smartphone-readable time-temperature (TT) sensor to assess distribution conditions for ecommerce-delivered bottles of perishable camels’ milk.
A credit-card size time-and-temperature sensor seems an improbable technology for a field test involving camels and Amish farmers, but the unlikely pairing proved a perfect intelligence-gathering formula for Desert Farms, a CA-based company whose tagline is “Make every day a hump day.”
It seems that camel’s milk, an ancient drink with unique benefits, has a growing niche as an alternative beverage choice for health-conscious U.S. consumers.
Company owner Walid Abdul-Wahad works with a network of Amish farmers who raise camels for milk that they package into 16oz plastic bottles that sell for $18 piece shipped direct from farm to customers across the country. Depending on customer preference, the bottles are shipped refrigerated or frozen in insulated containers packed with dry ice.
Desert Farms owner Walid Abdul-Wahad arranged for Amish farmers to raise camels for milk that's bottled and shipped direct to customers across the country. Photo copyright 2016 Desert Farms, Inc.
When Abdul-Wahad sought to know more about packaging and shipping conditions for its ecommerce-only business, he connected last fall with Avery Dennison during Pack Expo Las Vegas 2015.
“He was interested in measuring the temperature of the products after he noticed occasional problems while shipping to locations like Florida and California,” says Mary Greenwood, director, new technology and business development, Avery Dennison materials group. “And if they had to ship the products quicker and more expensively, Abdul-Wahad wanted to share that rationale with customers.
The company was also was looking to streamline their shipping process and optimize their packaging.”
The insulated containers of bottled camel's milk is shipped with protective cushioning and ice packs. A second sensor recorded external conditions.
A prescription for success
Coincidentally, Avery Dennison had in development a small, compact, user-friendly data logger prompted after a brainstorming session with a major pharmaceutical company months earlier. The result was the TT Sensor Plus, an inexpensive data recording device the size of a credit card. Packed in that tiny form factor is a time/temperature logger, a flexible battery and a Near-Field Communications chip that provides convenient access to the data via a smartphone.
All that at a modest unit price around $15 proved ideal for Desert Farms’ trial in March and April 2016 that placed TT Sensor Plus sensors into eight shipments to customers in four states. For each shipment, one sensor was attached to the bottom of the shipping container’s lid and a second sensor card was affixed to the outside of the container to track both interior and exterior conditions.
Along with time and temperature, the variables assessed included the location and distance, shipping time—overnight versus ground, whether refrigerated or frozen as well as the specific packaging and amount of dry ice used.
Supply-chain insights and customer assistance
The user-friendly sensor allows user selection of temperature data collection intervals, which for Desert Farms was set at 45 minutes.
“Walid was surprised at the amount of data he was able to get,” Greenwood points out. “For the two small sample case-study results, the shipping company told him exactly when the product was delivered—and that’s where the arrow is in the charts (above).
“What’s attractive to many brand owners today is that fact that they can scan the sensor tag with a mobile device from anywhere and simply e-mail the results."
That mobile convenience greatly simplified Walid’s trial and bypassed the challenges associated with long-range data collection. According to Greenwood, Walid included paper flyers about the test in some shipments to consumers with whom he had a good relationship and had the customers ship the device back to him.
“He had other customers download the app to their smartphones to capture the information and then immediately email those reports directly to him,” she says. “He knew which customers had Android phones, saying ‘you'd be surprised at the number of people that order camel's milk off of their phone rather than from a computer.’”
The sensor helped Walid view real-world shipping conditions with greater clarity.
“We still want to do more testing, but the data has been helping us understand shipping challenges,” says Walid. “Maybe we only should ship second-day to a customer in a certain location at a certain time of year. Another location might be fine with ground shipping. This kind of information helps make our operation more efficient and helps the customer understand why they might have to pay more to ship faster.”
Walid also liked the ease of use of TT Sensor Plus. “I’m working with Amish farmers, and of course they don’t use a lot of technology. The sensor is simple for them to use. Not having to train them definitely helps.”
Sensor trials and pilots
The TT Sensor Plus was officially launched at Labelexpo in September, which is where this editor came across it.
While Desert Farms was not the first user of TT Sensor Plus, it was one of the most unique, according to Greenwood who says “we have been conducting trials and pilots for months. We have sold it in small quantities and are also signing up distributers worldwide.”
Other testers of the technology include a large grocery chain that compared the TT Sensor Plus to the data logger they’d been using. “It not only worked as well, we believe ours is more sensitive to temperature change more quickly than theirs,” Greenwood reports.
The sensor is available for about $15 apiece in small quantities. “Competitor data loggers are priced anywhere from $20 to $50,” says Greenwood, “and they aren’t as small as ours. Most of those have USB ports, requiring users to plug them into a computer to upload the data.”
The Android-compatible TT Sensor Plus app is available free for download on Google Play.
For those looking to bringing unprecedented clarity to real-world supply-chain conditions, smart sensors like this are an invaluable tool to help users find, address and overcome humps and bumps in their own supply chain.
For more information:
The TT Sensor Plus main page: http://label.averydennison.com/en/home/lpm-products/key-label-innovations/TT-sensor-plus.html
Want to get smarter about your packaging? Attend PackEx Montréal, November 30, 2016 to December 1, 2016, to assess containers, materials, machinery and more for your next project.