Monitoring Temperatures in Transit

FourKites web portal tracks temperatures on food shipments

Tracking solution could help food shippers stay in compliance with FSMA regulations, FourKites says.

By Ben Ames

Logistics software provider FourKites Inc. has unveiled a web portal that allows food and pharmaceutical shippers to monitor temperature and location data while their freight is still in transit, the company said yesterday.

Chicago-based FourKites collects the information by integrating its software platform with the tracking devices and sensors attached to trailers by many trucking companies, FourKites President Matt Elenjickal said in an interview. While carriers have had access to that information in the past, this portal marks the first time that shippers can see it in real time, he claimed.

FourKites updates the tracking data every 15 minutes, allowing shippers to ensure that their refrigerated loads are staying in compliance with temperature limits, such as those of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). FSMA regulations require shippers and carriers to take steps to ensure that temperature-sensitive foods remain within specified safe temperature ranges during transit.

FSMA rules also require carriers to share that data with shippers, but that exchange is usually done only at the end of a journey, when it is too late for shippers to re-route spoiled loads or warn their customers that a replacement is on the way, Elenjickal said. FourKites’ approach is new because it shares the data with shippers nearly in real time, allowing shippers to reduce spoilage and increase customer satisfaction by identifying non-compliant loads earlier in the shipping process, before those loads are diverted to quality assurance (QA) centers or reach their final destinations, he said.

While many carriers already have access to this data, real-time tracking information is often reserved only for high-value shipments because of the high price and short battery life of sensor tags, Elenjickal said. By integrating its web portal with the trailer tracking devices already installed on many trucks, FourKites can supply the same data at a lower cost for shippers of refrigerated goods such as produce, meat, or medicine, he said.

A number of telematics and tracking-sensor manufacturers have launched hardware-based solutions for this challenge, such as asset-monitoring tags from BlackBerry Ltd. and Roambee Corp. Those tags typically are bolted onto trucks and containers to monitor data over wireless sensors, then broadcast the information to a cloud-based database using cellular networks.

Another recent entry in the market is a multi-modal “connected freight” system from Honeywell International Inc. that works by attaching low-cost sensor tags to pallets or individual packages and collecting their data in a gateway device with basic computing power. But that device is also being marketed for high-value shipments until greater production volume drives prices down, Honeywell says.

FourKites is in close competition with firms like 10-4 Systems Inc. and MacroPoint LLC in the fast-growing sector of supply chain software vendors offering real-time freight tracking and supply chain visibility capabilities. FourKites has grown quickly in recent weeks. In May the company announced that it had integrated its real-time tracking system with transportation management system (TMS) software from BluJay Solutions, and in April it reported it had added its freight-tracking tools to JDA Software Group Inc.’s TMS solution.

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