Cold chain integrity in real time

Issue 6 2022 Editor's Choice, Asset Management, Infrastructure, Transport (Industry), Logistics (Industry)

A video doing the rounds on WhatsApp a while ago showed endless piles of oranges that were dumped next to a South African road because they could not be sold or exported. This colossal waste of food and money will have cost some transportation companies and farmers dearly.

Unfortunately, this is only one event among many as when it comes to transporting fresh produce; the risks to producers are immense. This is especially true as some EU countries pass regulations to favour their own producers and delay or deter goods from southern Africa. This not only leads to losses, but also retrenchments and even bankruptcies if goods are rejected. Of course, the risks are much larger than this as fresh produce may simply be spoiled if refrigeration breaks down or other logistics problems create havoc for the export trade, leading to rejection.

When you consider that the value of a container of oranges can range from $40 000 to $70 000, it is imperative to have accurate and dependable technology protecting the perishable supply chain.

This is where DeltaTrak’s technology comes in. Founded 32 years ago by current chairman, Fred Wu, this American company is the largest privately owned cold chain monitoring company in the world. With its genesis in San Francisco’s Silicon Valley, DeltaTrak started in the highly regulated pharmaceutical (FDA) sector, monitoring medicinal products, vaccines and related health products. With this experience and an ever-expanding global base, the natural evolution into IoT-based monitoring with “a focus on farm-to-fork cloud-based visibility of the cold chain sector” was crucial.

DeltaTrak’s smart IoT sensors are placed within containers and constantly record and store information on conditions throughout the journey. This constant recording will prove the container was shipped at the correct temperature (as well as collecting additional measurements). This is done in order to ensure the goods are accepted at the destination port.

Erich Hugo, head of business innovation at DeltaTrak, an ex-South African living in Sweden with a long history in the tech world, invented the first sensor or RTL (real-time monitor). It was his drive to improve the solution that led him to join forces with DeltaTrak to help expand this technology across the globe.

Investing in Africa

DeltaTrak made the decision to expand into Africa in 2021, and Howard Hughes Frank was approached to help establish the company in SA. Frank, who is based in the Western Cape, runs the DeltaTrak operation across the SADC region. In the last 18 months the company has seen strong growth and several of the top perishable and commodity exporters in southern Africa are now trusting DeltaTrak to monitor their assets.

Frank explains that while there are many sensors on the market, the DeltaTrak offering is unique in that it includes sensors with secondary probes (allowing front- and back-of-container readings and alerts), real-time pulp temperature readings, as well as AI-driven intelligence which enhances the user’s experience. This, along with solutions such as ‘Shadow Logging’, means its clients are assured of never losing data, whether it be via the cloud or post-shipment.

DeltaTrak’s FlashTrak cloud portal allows clients to view their FlashLink Real Time Loggers from anywhere at any time via their PC or DeltaTrak’s FlashTrak Connect app.

Benefits to customers

The primary benefit of the DeltaTrak solution is visibility over the logistics operation, as about 40% of problems with perishable shipments happen at sea where nothing can be done about it. This equates to roughly 1,3 billion tons of food lost per year. Add to that the costs of the full supply chain, such as water and labour, and these losses add up. For perspective, losing a single orange equates to the farmer losing up to 50 litres of green water, which is simply not sustainable, Frank says.

Using DeltaTrak’s solutions, producers and logistics specialists can monitor the location of their commodities in real time, as well as the containers’ ambient temperature, light, humidity and shock parameters. This, along with date- and time-stamped data, means that even if a container is put into hibernation for a month (as happens in some countries for legislative reasons), the system’s battery will provide continuous information on its status. This allows the customer to know the exact state of their goods long before the doors are finally opened at their destination.

While geo-fencing alerts exporters of the cargo’s arrival at the destination; the company’s maritime service allows exporters to monitor the location of their shipments even when out of cellular reach on the ocean. All these features allow for far more accurate tracking of containers, which allows for better management and ETA predictions. Once within range of the port, all trip data is uploaded to the cloud so no information is ever lost.

Battery life and connectivity

There are several devices currently available from DeltaTrak, all approved by the Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB). These range between 2G, 3G and 4G/5G (destination dependent) and include the 3G probe device which allows for front and back (or pulp) monitoring with one device. Comprehensive brochures are available from (or via the short link*dt1).

The sensors boast a 12-month shelf life (they can also be recharged after a year if unused), and a range of 70-120 days in-transit life. The long battery life ensures customers do not waste capex or spend unnecessary time worrying about battery life. DeltaTrak also has a refurbishment programme that buys back old devices from customers.

If a problem occurs at any stage of the cold chain and a claim needs to be filed with an insurance company, the claim, with all relevant details, can be sent directly from FlashTrak via DeltaTrak’s automated claims feature. In addition, any ‘green’ rebates claimed can also be sent from the application.


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