Using IoT to Identify Malfunctioning Commercial Refrigerators

Climate change mandates are impacting supermarkets, which maintain large, often inefficient, refrigeration systems. Luckily, advanced sensor technologies are making it easier to identify leaks and track temperatures, making markets more sustainable.


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Image credit: Bacharach

Supermarkets have vast networks of pipes full of chemical refrigerants that keep trucks, back-room storage, and in-store refrigerators and freezers sufficiently cold. Most of these refrigerants are greenhouse gases, specifically hydrofluorocarbons or HFCs, that are depleting the Earth’s ozone layer as they seep out through cracked or improperly installed commercial refrigeration systems.

Commercial systems have been shifting to more climate-friendly refrigerants, pushed by legislation to reduce environmental pollutants. However, only about one percent of stores have fully converted to HFC-free systems.

Industry estimates suggest that supermarkets lose about 25 percent of their refrigerant charge every year, but a recent investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency indicates it might be worse. Using IoT sensors, the EIA found widespread leaks in 55 percent of the 45 supermarkets it visited.

It sounds bad, but it doesn’t have to be. IoT sensors and detection systems can make it easier for stores to find and stop leaks in their refrigeration systems.

Smart, Sustainable Refrigeration

Technicians armed with the proper gear and IoT sensors can find leaks quickly. Bacharach, based in Pennsylvania, makes the PGM-IR Portable Refrigerant Monitor, which can detect low-level leaks. The device has a sensing wand that checks PPM readings against a database of more than 60 possible pollutants. The PPMs are captured in real-time and are displayed on a backlit LCD on the main device. The real-time data log can maintain up to 200 readings.

Bacharach also offers fixed devices and other portable diagnostic analyzers, including the Neutronics Legend Series HFC Refrigerant Analyzer. These devices detect leaks and identify emissions in both refrigeration and HVAC systems.

The devices link to Parasense, Baharach’s refrigerant tracking and compliance software. It can monitor systems at a single location or across an enterprise, tracking usage, emissions, and regulatory compliance. Parasense calculates leak rates and equipment leak thresholds, and it can notify managers if systems aren’t performing properly.

Parasense also maintains a reporting database, so users can compare data against regulatory requirements and corporate sustainability goals. An easy-to-navigate dashboard allows operators to view site performance, operating costs, and profit metrics from a computer, tablet, or smartphone. It also can tie into a building management system.

Monitoring the Big Chill at the Edge

Reducing ozone-eating emissions is one path toward sustainability. Another is reducing food waste from malfunctioning refrigerators. Maintaining proper temperatures can prevent large-scale food waste and subsequent monetary losses.

Intel® partner UST developed Cold Truth, which combines temperature sensors with cloud computing to ensure temperature fluctuations are caught before food spoils. Cold Truth sensors are placed on multiple shelves inside each refrigeration unit to collect real-time temperature data. The data is sent via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi at scheduled intervals. An edge gateway aggregates the data and delivers it to the cloud.

white Cold Truth sensor box

Image credit: Cold Truth

Temperatures that fall outside designated thresholds trigger automatic alerts, so staff can respond immediately. The cloud-based monitoring and reporting system allows operators to see current and historical data on a dashboard or mobile app. It also maintains data for audits and regulatory compliance.

UST deployed Cold Truth in Mydin, a Malaysian grocery store chain with more than 65 locations. Prior to the Cold Truth installation, the Mydin staff manually checked the temperature sensors in each refrigeration unit five times a day. It was a time-consuming and error-prone approach. The Cold Truth solution was implemented on an Intel® NUC Kit with an Intel® Celeron® processor, which automated the entire system. Mydin predicts the Cold Truth solution will reduce food spoilage by 36 percent and labor costs by 19 percent.

The Cold Truth solution can be offered as a service, with bundled hardware, software, integration, and support. It is also available as an Intel® IoT Market Ready Solution.

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