Using WiFi Data Loggers in Cold Storage Applications

The benefits of WiFi connectivity for the food and beverage industry include cold chain integrity/validation, product protection, inventory tracking, documentation for receivers, temperature management in shipping compartments and more.

At CAS DataLoggers, many of our customers rely on WiFi data loggers to remotely monitor temperature in cold storage areas to protect their products.

However, by their very nature, freezer and cold storage wireless applications require specific precautions to protect the performance of indoor WiFi access points (AP) in these locations. As with all electronics, AP hardware operating at freezing temperatures is prone to failure and has a shorter life expectancy. To keep the data flowing, many businesses are using custom enclosures to keep APs within their specified operating temperature ranges and maintain reliable WLAN access.

In this brief overview we’ll focus on datalogging within these enclosures for food & beverage cold chain applications.

Standing up to the Cold

The benefits of WiFi connectivity for the food and beverage industry include cold chain integrity/validation, product protection, inventory tracking, documentation for receivers, temperature management in shipping compartments, etc. While businesses often take their wireless access for granted, it’s difficult to ensure dependable access to WiFi inside freezer rooms.

In order to maintain your facility’s wireless network and to keep the data flowing, it’s critical to protect your access point hardware in cold storage areas. When you consider all the impediments to WiFi communication in a typical freezer room such as a meat locker or warehouse cold storage room, this initially seems like a daunting task:

• At freezing temperatures, electronics are prone to rust and failure due to frost buildup and excessive moisture.
• It’s costly to install wiring, which is definitely not a short-term solution.
• Clean-in-place (CIP) procedures prevent the use of exposed AP hardware.
• RF coverage is compromised by the thick walls often found in storage rooms.
• Vandalism and theft are a concern for some businesses.

Enclosures Protect APs

Access point hardware operating temperatures vary significantly between models, some of which are specified within negative Fahrenheit temperatures. Assuming that your current AP hardware is performing well in your setup, it’s generally recommended to use the same model for network compatibility reasons.

Custom enclosures can protect against many of these hurdles by insulating your access point and any other equipment from the cold and condensation. This alone may raise the hardware’s temperature to safe operating levels without your needing to install localized heaters. With the addition of an internal heater, access point enclosures can be safely installed in sub-zero temperatures.

Additionally, many are weatherproofed against moisture or sealed against CIP procedures. As always, check the IP or NEMA rating of an enclosure to see if it offers strong enough protection for the deployment area. Antennas are another effective accessory, while locks provide an added layer of security.

In the absence of reliable AC power, some users rely on Power over Ethernet technology.

Wireless Data Loggers

For temperature monitoring of perishable food and beverage products such as meat and milk, wireless data loggers can be deployed alongside these enclosures or next to exposed access points whose reliability is a concern. The battery-operated TR-71wf temperature data logger from T&D is a two-channel model with an external thermistor sensor and a measuring range of -40 to 110°C. By using a wireless LAN, data is automatically uploaded to T&D’s free WebStorage Cloud Service. The service can be used with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets allowing users to receive alerts and download data.

Additionally, Lascar provides the EasyLog-WiFi-T sensor which measures ambient temperature and transmits wirelessly via a WiFi network to a PC. After configuration the datalogger can be placed anywhere within network range, which can be increased by using WiFi extenders. If the sensor temporarily loses connectivity, it will log readings until it is able to communicate again with the PC application. When your product is at risk, you’ll receive email alerts on any smartphone, tablet or PC.

Summary

Safeguarding your wireless Access points in cold storage areas is critical to maintain your wireless network and protect your products using WiFi data loggers. While freezing temperatures pose many challenges to setting up a reliable connection, these can be overcome with planning and specialized equipment. The business benefits—product quality and loss prevention—make the effort worthwhile.

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