Your reefer’s monitoring system places a crucial role in maintaining your cold chain and staying in compliance with government regulations for the transportation of perishable goods. Being able to keep track of the temperature of both the trailer and the products contained therein is a priority that cannot be understated or overlooked, not when the potential repercussions include not just legal actual but potential physical harm to the end user. Your truck can account for plenty of this information on its own, but not all of it, so it’s important to invest in a supplementary system that can provide you with full control and visibility for improved cold chain management. We’ll break down eight of the key features you should be looking for in a reefer monitoring system, why they’re important, and how you can use those features to gain the greatest possible benefit to your cold chain operations.


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The Importance of a Reefer Monitoring System

Reefer monitoring systems are utilized to maintain the integrity of temperature-sensitive cargo to preserve the quality, safety, and compliance of those goods throughout the cold chain. The significance of such a system extends far beyond conventional monitoring; it encapsulates the essence of efficient, secure, and seamless cold chain operations and ensures the safety of the end user.

A reefer monitoring system acts as the vigilant guardian of the cold chain, meticulously tracking temperature fluctuations, humidity levels, and other environmental variables that impact cargo quality. This real-time vigilance ensures that perishable goods remain within optimal conditions, safeguarding them from degradation, spoilage, and potential health hazards. It also helps companies achieve compliance and supply chain transparency, generating traceability and records of proper handling that can help bolster your reputation in a competitive market.

1. Real-Time Temperature Monitoring

The heart of any reefer monitoring system lies in its ability to provide real-time temperature tracking, consisting of continuous updates on temperature and operational conditions throughout the transportation process. Temperature sensitivity is a time-bound variable – if a perishable product spends too much time in poor temperature conditions, it will rot or otherwise spoil. There’s little use to monitoring temperature if the data provided isn’t accessible in real time, as it will likely be too late to prevent a product’s quality from deteriorating. With real-time monitoring, however, temperature fluctuations can be promptly detected and addressed, which can help save a company’s reputation as well as the money they gain from delivering an in-tact product. 

2. Data Logging and Reporting

Robust data logging and analytics capabilities enable the generation of comprehensive reports and insights into temperature trends and fluctuations. Having access to these reports and data is helpful on a number of fronts. First, it provides fleet managers with greater insight into when and where temperature fluctuations are occurring. This can help them make process adjustments that lessen the risk of products falling out of their intended range. Also, the ability to generate reports greatly streamlines proof of compliance. The cold chain is strictly regulated on both an industry and government level, especially when it comes to food and pharmaceuticals. As part of those regulations, companies have to be able to prove that they’re keeping their products within suitable ranges. If your cold chain system has a data logging and reporting feature, these reports can be quickly generated in order to save time and potentially prevent legal repercussions for non-compliance.

3. Custom Alarms and Notifications

An ideal reefer monitoring system should have configurable alarms and notifications alert stakeholders to temperature deviations, power failures, and other critical events. Just like the key feature of real-time monitoring, this feature facilitates swift intervention and minimizes potential damage when temperature fluctuations or events that could cause temperature fluctuations occur. In-built notification systems allow you to set the critical temperature range for a given product. If the system detects that the trailer or product has fallen out of that range, it will provide an immediate alert so action can be taken. In many cases, temperature fluctuations are merely a result of units shifting in front of and blocking the reefer’s ventilation system. Whether this or something else is the issue, it provides drivers with a chance to respond before the product deteriorates.

4. System Integration Capabilities

The ability to seamlessly integrate a reefer monitoring system with your existing fleet management and logistics software enhances overall operational efficiency and eases the implementation process. If your workers already know how to use the system that your cold chain logistics solution is being integrated with, there’s a far lower barrier for proper use. They’ll simply need to learn a few additional functions rather than an entirely new system from scratch. It’s also helpful to select a reefer monitoring system that can integrate with your telematics system, which provides a unified view of both vehicle and cargo data to facilitate better data analysis and data-driven decision-making.

5. Temperature Accuracy and Consistency

Although it may seem obvious, it’s worth stating that a key feature of your reefer monitoring system should be the ability to accurately and consistently report the temperature of your products. Within cold chain logistics, there is often not much room for error. With some products, a single degree can mean the difference between a quality product and one that can no longer be sold. With this in mind, it is absolutely essential for your temperature monitoring system to be as accurate as possible. It also needs to give those accurate results consistently, so as not to create doubt that there’s a difference between reality and what the numbers are showing. After all, if you can’t trust the numbers the system is providing, what’s the use of having the system in the first place?

6. Multiple Sensor Integration

Depending on what you’re delivering, integration of various sensors, such as humidity and door sensors, can help enhance your overall monitoring accuracy and offer a holistic view of cargo conditions. It’s worth noting that this feature will be more important to some shipments than others, but it’s good to find a cold chain logistics management system that at least provides the opportunity for other forms of monitoring. If the system you’re already using to monitor temperature can be configured to also monitor humidity, shock, or tampering, then if you want or need those benefits down the road, you can obtain them without having to invest in and learn a whole new system. It’s important to not just look at what you need now, but what you might need in the future. This leads to the next key feature.

7. Scalability and Future-Proofing

When you invest in a cold chain monitoring solution, it’s important to ensure that your investment can grow with your business. What your company needs now will not account for everything your company needs five or ten years down the line. It’s critical that you find a solution that allows you to pay for what you need now without overcharging, but that also leaves the door open for expansion in the future. If your company has to change to a new system five years from now because the first can’t support the number of trailers you’re monitoring temperature for or because you need a system with added capabilities, it’s going to cause setbacks. You’ll have to teach your workers the new systems, fund those systems, and set them up, all while the old one is probably still in working order. It’s better to invest in a solution that allows for this growth and can facilitate fleet expansion with practiced ease.

8. Unit-Level Temperature Monitoring

A vital feature that most people don’t consider when looking for a reefer monitoring system is the ability to monitor temperature at the level of the pallet or product unit. Most systems provide the ambient temperature of the trailer without any granularity. This is a problem, because there are a number of factors that can make an individual unit’s temperature go up or down faster than the trailer’s ambient temperature will move, especially depending on where the trailer’s temperature sensor is located. We previously touched on a scenario where a pallet might shift during transport and block an air vent. In that case, it would be helpful to know that the individual pallet’s temperature is changing in a way others are not; also, the blocked vent might not be enough for the trailer’s sensor to read but it can still affect the other products in the trailer. This pallet-level monitoring helps provide greater visibility and control over issues such as these.

Wait… Doesn’t My Truck Already Monitor Cold Chain?

Through the required telematics systems, most reefer trucks have the ability to control and monitor the overall temperature of the trailer they’re transporting. However, this monitoring has its limitations as it’s only intended as a general overview of trailer conditions rather than the conditions of the products themselves.

What You Already Have
As indicated, your truck does have the ability to monitor and control the overall temperature of the trailer, usually through your telematics system. Depending on your settings, it might even provide historical data that can be used for creating compliance reports. This feature is helpful because it can alert the driver if something’s wrong with the trailer’s refrigeration system. If the temperature is rapidly changing, they are aware that they should first check their settings and then if the settings don’t line up with the actual temperature, to take the appropriate measures to ensure nothing’s wrong with the trailer. These features are no doubt useful, but they only account for some of the critical attributes you should be taking advantage of. The key becomes finding a supplementary system that can fill in those gaps and provide improved value.

What You Still Need
While your truck’s existing systems provide control and visibility for the trailer as a whole, it cannot monitor your cold chain products on a more granular, unit or pallet level. We’ve already touched on why this is important, but to reiterate: just because the trailer is maintaining a certain temperature does not mean that each product unit is also maintaining that temperature. Pallets can shift during transit to block vents, products can be improperly packaged, any number of factors can cause a shift in temperature for individual units. And at the end of the day, it truly is the unit temperature that matters, as that’s what determines whether the product can be safely used or consumed. Also, the trailer-level monitoring provided through telematics alone cannot be used to track other product conditions; with a supplementary system that focuses on condition monitoring at the product level, these add-ons are a lot easier to obtain and implement if there’s ever a need. It allows drivers to respond to alerts of not just the trailer’s overall temperature degrading, but when a single product’s temperature begins degrading. It can also help facilitate more detailed and reliable compliance reports.

How Link Labs Can Provide What You Need

Through our AirFinder Everywhere solution, Link Labs provides a reefer monitoring system that addresses all your cold chain logistics needs. Our system is designed to provide visibility for not just your trailer, but everything it contains, and our suite of products features a wide array of asset tags that can provide granular temperature monitoring and more. All you have to do is affix a tag to each pallet or unit, and you can receive readings, alerts, and reports for individual products for a more reliable temperature tracking strategy. Furthermore, our system is capable of telematics integrations, allowing you to gain new benefits while sticking to a platform you’re already familiar with. This makes implementation easy and scalable, as the only new components needed for expanded operations are additional asset tags. Book a demo with our experts to find a cold chain monitoring solution that works for your needs today.

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Written by Makenna Dudley

Makenna Dudley is a Marketing Associate for Link Labs, with practical experience in written communications, media writing, and additional forms of content creation. She has a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication.

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