Ye Ol’ Geezer Meat Shop Chills Out With the IoT

A lot is riding on this butcher's equipment, especially when the mercury breaks 100 degrees in the Utah desert, so the shop owners have turned to internet-networked sensors to keep tabs on its coolers and freezers remotely.
Published: July 28, 2016

The Internet of Things is cropping up in some very unexpected places. Take, for example, Ye Ol’ Geezer Meat Shop, a family-run business in Moab, a town of 5,000 inhabitants in eastern Utah. “My mom and dad never took a vacation,” says Henry Evans, whose parents opened Ye Ol’ Geezer Meat Shop in 1994. Someone always had to be around to make sure the coolers and freezers were running properly. Since his father retired, his mother now visits the shop seven days a week, just to keep an eye on things.

Though most of the shop’s equipment is three or four decades old, the only significant malfunction the business has suffered was one broken compressor, which was quickly fixed. But the fear of a major failure occurring in the middle of the night or on a Sunday or Monday, when the shop is closed, always haunts the Evans family. A broken cooler or freezer could not only be a major capital expenditure, but also potentially cost them several thousand dollars in lost inventory.

The store mounts a sensor on each of its freezers (shown here inside each red circle) to monitor the temperatures of its meats.

In recent years, Henry Evans had started hearing more and more about IoT technology, so the self-described geek decided to start Googling for a system that could monitor the temperatures inside the freezers and coolers. “I figured there had to be something—an app we could use on our phones, so that me or my mom could check it anytime,” he says.

Evans admits he did not spend a great deal of time searching or deliberating over what to buy. “Monnit was the first vendor I saw on my search,” he recalls. “The main thing I liked is that they’re based in Salt Lake City, which is so close.” He called the company, explained what he wanted, and says he received a quick reply. “It’s exactly what I needed,” he says of the system.

Temperature sensors mounted inside the store’s 13 coolers and freezers take readings every 10 minutes and transmit that data to a central gateway. If the temperatures within the units fall below a set threshold, the gateway triggers an alert, which is routed to Monnit’s cloud-based server via the butcher shop’s Wi-Fi network and then arrives on Evans’ and his mother’s cellphones as an SMS text alert.

Evans was able to install the sensors himself, by drilling holes in the cooler and freezer cases so that the sensors themselves could be mounted inside the units and the radios could be mounted outside the cases, in order to ensure a good read range. Each sensor is powered by two AA batteries and should run for three to five years, based on the 10-minute reading intervals (when set to report at less frequent intervals, battery life can be extended to seven years or more).

The system has been up and running for roughly a month, Evans says, and the biggest surprise has been in learning how high the temperatures inside the freezers rise during their periodic defrost cycles. The spike—up to 30 degrees—happens twice each day, but lasts for only 15 to 20 minutes. To avoid the many alerts he and his mother were receiving due to defrosting, Evans has set the Monnit software so that it only issues alerts if the freezers maintain that temperature for more than 20 minutes, which would indicate a possible problem.

All of the hardware required for the store’s 13 coolers and freezers, as well as the Monnit gateway and a year’s subscription to the software and alerting solution, cost Evans $1,400. In subsequent years, he will pay $99 for the software and alert system. (Users who set the sensors to transmit every two hours or less frequently can access the Monnit software and subscribe to SMS alerts for free.)

Monnit’s Brad Walters

To date, Evans says, he has been quite pleased with the technology. The investment, he adds, has given him and his mother peace of mind—especially on hot summer days, when Moab temperatures have exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 degrees Celsius). Best of all, his mother no longer needs to take daily trips to the store, just to make sure the equipment is running as it should. Someday, he hopes, the family may even be able to take a vacation.

Brad Walters, who started his career 25 years ago with IBM before leaving that company to launch a series of startups, founded Monnit in 2010. “Prior to Monnit,” he says, “I had a company called Max Stream, which sold wireless technology for electricity and gas meters, and we sold to Digi International.” After a short stint as an angel investor, he decided to revisit the startup world.

In speaking with his old customers, Walters found that there was a still a strong appetite for wireless sensors networks, and he was personally very bullish on the IoT. “We initially started thinking about developing products for the consumer market,” he notes, “but quickly pivoted to the commercial market, and today we have more than 400 SKUs [stock-keeping units] and 8,000 customers worldwide.” Just over half of those customers are outside the United States, and Monnit also works with more over 300 private label partners who sell the wireless sensors, which are manufactured in the United States, under different brands.

“Our major value proposition is that our technology uses a propriety, energy-efficient radio link,” Walters says. The sensors communicate via the 433 MHz, 868 MHz and 900 MHz bands in Asia, Europe and North America, respectively. Sensors are available to track temperature, humidity, carbon monoxide, motion, voltage, resistance, light, pressure, occupancy or other variables. Monnit will soon release the second generation of its radio technology, which will significantly boost the read range and data security that its technology currently supports. (The firm also sells versions of some of the sensors that use a Wi-Fi radio to transmit data directly through a building’s Wi-Fi network.)

Used inside a building, Walters says, the current generation of sensors can transmit data to a gateway located as far away as 300 to 400 feet, though the second-generation protocol will beat that distance by a factor of three to five times. And while the current generation of sensors provides a degree of security by scrambling the data before transmitting it, the second generation will use industry-standard AES encryption. What’s more, Walters predicts, a boost in efficiency will mean that the three to seven years of life that two AA batteries provide to the current generation of sensors will be doubled or tripled in the new generation.