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How an IoT sensor is helping Australian milk reach China faster


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(Image: Supplied)

In an effort to improve the quality and speed of fresh produce, dairy, and seafood imports into China, companies have begun looking towards Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, Telstra and its cool chain services partner Peloris have told ZDNet.

Telstra had already been emphasising the use of IoT for Australia’s agricultural industry, including connecting vineyards and farms; acquiring GPS and telematics solutions provider MTData to bolster agricultural technologies; and encouraging the development of agricultural IoT solutions in its new IoT hub.

It was then simply a matter of expanding Telstra’s agricultural solutions to the cold chain, Peloris MD Peter Verry told ZDNet, for their fresh milk project with M2M Connectivity, Sendum, multiple milk producers, and China Inspection Quarantine (CIQ).

As a result, the 7,000km journey of milk from Australian factory to Chinese store has been reduced from taking up to three weeks to just under two days.

“The way we delivered that and managed to negotiate what is now 36-hour clearance for fresh milk was to utilise the technology that’s been used for a long time in the farm sphere with the Internet of Things,” Verry told ZDNet.

“You’ve got farm bots and drones, and automatic weeding systems, and all sorts of technology being used in farming — what we did is we transferred that technology approach into the supply chain.

“It’s not anything more than just applying technology that’s available through the Telstra network and using the Telstra device specifically to provide that product’s integrity, process, transparency, and border compliance.”

Specifically, Telstra and Peloris are using a Sendum data logger device to measure temperature and location in real time, which uploads the information to the cloud every 15 minutes.

The Sendum device additionally measures light emissions, tilt monitoring, humidity, and air pressure, with Verry saying “there are still technologies that can be linked to provide a holistic solution”.

As milk needs to be stored at between 0 and 4 degrees Celsius from start to finish in order to fulfil specified health and safety requirements, the information is likewise uploaded to the CIQ server every 15 minutes.

“The biggest challenge has been working with China Inspection Quarantine, because like all government departments, they tend to lag a bit behind time in terms of their innovative thinking — but we’re now at a point where our server is connected directly to the China CIQ server,” Verry told ZDNet.

“So they actually have visibility of a pallet of fresh milk from the A2 factory in Smeaton Grange [in South West Sydney] all the way through to the customer delivery, whether that’s in Beijing or Guangzhou.

“We’re the only company in the world that has a direct link to their system and provides this information.”

Giving CIQ visibility of this data therefore fast-tracks the process of being approved and allowed into the country, he said.

“That technology allows us via the Telstra Sendum device to guarantee the integrity of the product, so the brand owner is confident that the product is transported and arrives at the right temperature; it allows the China Inspection Quarantine officials to see that the product meets all the relevant standards and has been transported at the right temperature as well, and hasn’t been compromised in the process; and it also provides the traceability of the shipment from the factory floor through to the customer,” Verry said.

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(Image: Supplied)

While tracking ends when the pallet of milk is unpacked by a supermarket or grocery store, Verry said the end consumer can also gain access to information by scanning the barcode.

By comparison, Verry said solutions when Peloris had first started looking into IoT technology tended to “end at the border” — so companies had no visibility of what happened to their product once it left Australia.

According to Verry, Peloris chose to go with Telstra’s solution after going to market for technology that provided “transparency and integrity”.

The real-time nature of Telstra’s device and solution was what swayed the company, he said, as it fulfilled the expectations from the milk producer, CIQ, and consumer of retaining product integrity “from gate to plate”.

In terms of connectivity, Verry said Telstra’s network provides the company with full coverage using 4G and GPS with satellite triangulation once the product leaves Australia.

While in-flight, the device is not allowed to transmit, but airlines have approved the collection of data throughout the flight to China.

“When it goes up in the air, it sort of goes into hibernation based on the altitude, and then when the plane comes down, it wakes up and the data is still being recorded and it just sends it all off straight away,” Verry explained.

The centre of such solutions remains connectivity, executive director of Premier Business at Telstra Business Andrew Wildblood argued, saying that Telstra’s plans for providing a mesh of networks — including gigabit 4G, 5G, Cat-M1 IoT, and narrowband IoT — will continue to provide the best coverage for IoT.

“There’s a coverage element in [choosing Telstra] in terms of particularly if you think forward looking of what we’re going to be doing in our Cat-M1 network and 5G and then low-powered devices,” Wildblood told ZDNet.

“When you start to overlay this 5G network that will come through in 2018, the coverage gets better, the sensors get cheaper and lower powered … that opens up a whole new market, and the part of the challenge for the next frontier of course is total coverage for remote and rural farming.”

Telstra has worked with Peloris on ensuring connectivity even while inside insulated trucks by installing repeaters, providing “visibility from start to finish”, Verry said.

Having just delivered its 2 millionth litre of milk to China without a single failure, Peloris is now responsible for 40 percent of all fresh milk exports into China globally.

Looking ahead, it is planning to bring its solution to other fresh produce imports across Asia, including delivering seafood, dairy, meat, fruit, and vegetables to Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

Such IoT solutions require a “consortium” of companies, Wildblood added, with each solving a different piece of the puzzle.

“Cracking the code on these opportunities in IoT is no single partner in isolation,” Wildblood told ZDNet.

“There’s no way Telstra can just do things because we’ve got a network … we don’t have the complete answer, but when you start to dig into the ecosystem, you’ve got to think about the universities, you’ve got to think about the tractor manufacturers, you’ve got to think about software companies, you’ve got to think about our network, our sensors, drones, cloud providers.”

According to Wildblood, up to 10 technology partners are often required to mesh their applications, software, devices, and solutions together for each IoT project.

“There’s no single silver bullet in this.”

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