NFC Tracks Passive Refrigeration for Low-Carbon-Footprint Deliveries

Cold-chain solutions company Cold&Co has teamed up with Blulog to provide a system for tracking temperatures in thermal, lightweight containers during the last mile of food delivery to customers.
Published: July 3, 2019

Several European delivery companies are striving to make the last mile of food delivery a fast and ecological one. Companies like Stuart Logistics provide bicycle-, scooter- or electric vehicle-based delivery of meals or groceries to individuals in Paris and other urban areas.

To ensure that the temperature of food being delivered never ventures outside of acceptable thresholds, Stuart is employing a Near Field Communication (NFC)-enabled solution provided by Cold&Co, using Blulog‘s NFC dataloggers. Stuart provides delivery services in 69 cities for more than 2,000 business clients, such as retailers and restaurants. Its delivery personnel utilize electric Nissan eNV 200 vehicles to pick up and deliver goods to customers in their homes or offices.

Blulog’s NFC datalogger card

French-Belgian firm Cold&Co has been providing delivery companies with thermal boxes, packaging and coolers for several years, which are typically used in France, Benelux (Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) and Switzerland. The containers are made of a washable, lightweight nylon material similar to that used to make backpacks. The partnership with Blulog adds a technological feature, however: mobile temperature tracking.

Blulog and Cold&Co had previously built a solution for the transportation of salmon that ensures product is never exposed to unsafe temperature levels, says Jeremy Laurens, Blulog’s cofounder and CEO. Delivery companies like Stuart Logistics are using the system in a similar way, utilizing reusable nylon bags to carry the food. In some cases, the food is picked up hot from a restaurant or café and needs to be delivered quickly so that it retains its heat. In other scenarios, the food is cold and picked up from stores, and must stay within a specific threshold to maintain its freshness.

Jeremy Laurens

Companies have several incentives to track food temperatures: for customer satisfaction and to meet the food safety regulations of local governing bodies. “Cold&Co commits to offer efficient solutions with adequate isolation and refrigeration,”‘ says Adrien Lehideux, the company’s CEO. The firm seeks to follow temperature requirements based on minimum and maximum temperature ranges, as indicated by food manufacturers and by legislation. That, Lehideux says, is where the company benefits from the Blulog technology “bringing traceability and guarantee of the correct temperature.”

The system consists of Cold&Co’s CarryTemp XL6 cooler with Blulog’s built-in NFC 13.56 MHz datalogger, which is compliant with the ISO 14443 standard. The thermal container comes with a coolant, in the case of perishable cold goods. The company wants to trace the amount of time the product remains in transit, as well as the product’s temperature range, and to link that data with the actual product being delivered and its location.

When a delivery person picks up goods, that individual uses his or her mobile phone to scan the NFC datalogger. The phone’s built-in NFC reader captures the unique ID number of the datalogger’s tag. When the order is delivered to the customer, the driver again scans the datalogger tag and displays the collected data for the customer in order to indicate the temperature at which the product has been maintained. That data, along with the GPS location, is forwarded to the cloud-based software to create a record of that delivery. Once the delivery is complete, the container is cleaned and returned to participating businesses for reuse.

In the event of a temperature breach, that information is visible to the customer so that it could reject the delivery, depending on the duration of the temperature excursion. That information could also be shared with the delivery company’s management. The delivery company and Cold&Co can use the data for analytics purposes—for instance, to better understand what conditions at the time of the delivery may have led to that temperature excursion.

Initially, the tag ID is not being linked to details such as the order’s customer name or the container’s contents. In the future, however, the system could be used in that manner, Laurens says. Drivers would simply scan a barcode on the container that would be linked to a given order, thereby creating an automatic connection with the datalogger’s NFC number. “NFC gives the proof that the system is working,” Laurens says, “[and we] also use it for tracking that delivering at the time.”

The card can be inserted into the canvas containers.

Stuart Logistics has been using the technology for approximately one month with its delivery service in Paris, France. Cold&Co and Blulog have also built a solution of air transportation for cold-chain goods. Cold&Co provides shippers with a specialized, reusable, inflatable thermal box. The datalogger would capture temperature data during the flight, and that data could be captured via a mobile phone when the goods are offloaded from planes or delivered to customers.

Adrien Lehideux

A solution to monitor conditions around air-transported goods is being tested first without the datalogger, with the Blulog sensors intended for future testing. Such solutions could be used for shipping temperature-sensitive products like sushi or ice cream. “Long-term plans for Cold&Co is to expand our product range,” Lehideux says, “in order to equip each logistics or transport company with a flow of autonomous passive cooling refrigerated containers.”

The goal is to provide temperature management without consuming fuel or electricity. “Our passive refrigeration solution perfectly adapts to new eco-friendly transportation,” Lehideux says, indicating that will be done with electrical or natural gas vehicles, cargo bikes or multimodal transportation.

Cold&Co offers customized solutions based on the challenges of their delivery company customers. “Our mission is also to be fully engaged in our clients’ topics,” Lehideux says, “from the project study phase, the analysis of logistical flows and potential cold-chain breaches.”