You know it’s going to be a bad day when your food retail store opens with the news that a fridge has broken down overnight. Then someone tells you this could have been avoided if you’d harnessed IoT for predictive maintenance.
These are not the words you want to hear when you’re facing a large volume of lost stock, waiting customers and the urgent need for an engineer.
Your mind is occupied by the problems that will dominate the rest of your day – and probably a few days afterwards too.
Perishable food can spoil fast in the wrong conditions. Given the overall value of chilled and frozen foods held by supermarkets, the cost of lost stock can be crippling - six-figure sums for convenience stores and potentially millions for larger supermarkets.
There’s an additional impact in terms of sustainability with increasing public attention focused on food waste.
And what is the effect on customer experience? A large supermarket holds an average of 900,000 product lines, including a wide array of chilled, frozen and freshly baked items. Malfunctioning fridges, freezers and ovens do not look good. While you’re busy trying to rectify the situation, your customers could be turning their backs and walking out. The impact on your reputation as a retailer is a consequence that can’t be ignored.
According to one estimate, the indirect costs of a refrigeration outage - including costs associated with store employee time, lost sales, refrigerant, compliance, energy, food spoilage, customer loyalty and employee satisfaction - could be five times higher than the direct costs - in terms of travel and time for engineers.
By the time you’ve finally found maintenance engineers who can help or sourced replacement parts, you’ll probably feel exhausted. But you might also find yourself wondering what you can do to prevent such a terrible experience in the future. You might even find yourself thinking about predictive maintenance.
If so, you won’t be alone. An increasing number of leaders in food retail and food service are turning to predictive maintenance that uses IoT to protect the continuity of vital assets involved in food storage, preparation and production.
Asset performance management solutions are growing in popularity.
What is predictive maintenance?
Predictive maintenance is all about foresight. It’s widely embraced in the industrial sector where continuity of production and machinery uptime are so important.
Predictive maintenance depends on sensor-driven data streams and analytics that pick up on potential problems that can be addressed before the point of failure.
The aim is to maintain efficient operation and schedule maintenance at the most convenient and cost-effective time. The lifespan of the equipment can be extended to its fullest with minimal loss of service.
The key components of IoT-driven predictive maintenance include data acquisition, storage and analysis; condition monitoring and evaluation; diagnostics; decision support and human interface. Predictive maintenance depends on continuous monitoring via a wireless sensor network and recognition of certain parameters that indicate potential problems.
Predictive maintenance focuses on the current condition of the equipment. This differs from preventive maintenance, which relies on historical data and average performance to produce servicing intervals.
How does predictive maintenance work in the retail sector?
Continuity of service is crucial in food retail. It’s a competitive market and if one retailer is unable to provide the products a customer wants, they will quickly go elsewhere.
Predictive maintenance with IoT enables leaders to keep essential equipment under constant scrutiny so that potential problems can be addressed before they become catastrophic. And it doesn’t have to be complicated.
There are also energy savings to be harnessed - which is no small benefit given today's rising costs. Supermarkets and convenience stores are considered to be high energy consumption buildings with complex infrastructure because of interlinked heat exchanges between the building, HVAC and refrigeration systems. This, coupled with varying requirements of stored products, hours of operation and transient occupancy patterns, creates multiple opportunities to make savings.
Temperature monitoring of fridges, freezers and hot-hold storage not only helps retailers maintain conditions for quality, safety and compliance. The system also provides an early warning of possible failure that can be addressed.
Wireless sensor networks stream continuous 24/7 readings into an intelligent operations platform that captures and stores data, displaying it on an intelligent dashboard for real-time and historical analysis. Any gradual deterioration of temperature performance could indicate a need for pre-emptive action.
The platform can also be configured to trigger email and mobile phone alerts when agreed parameters are breached. An agreed workflow can be put in place and digitally delivered to local teams to perform initial checks. In other cases, it might be necessary to arrange an engineer visit. The aim is to establish a more proactive approach to the maintenance of key equipment, rather than only being able to react when the unthinkable happens.
In simple terms, supervisors can see problems before they happen. It’s the essence of predictive maintenance.
How can food retail businesses benefit from predictive maintenance?
Food retailers that have introduced predictive maintenance report a series of benefits. These include:
Maintaining refrigeration in supermarkets requires large amounts of energy. Refrigeration is usually the biggest consumer of electricity in a supermarket. In the UK, it is estimated that supermarket fridges consume around 1% of the country's energy, which is enough to power 800,000 homes. The financial and environmental cost of open fridges is driving an increasing appetite for adding doors, which some campaigners argue could reduce energy consumption by as much as 40%. Predictive maintenance enables leaders to identify and deal with inefficiencies to protect sustainability performance and reduce energy bills.
Improved resource allocation
A key advantage of predictive maintenance is that it takes the manual checking burden away from frontline staff so they can focus on value-adding work. It’s a similar story for maintenance engineers, who can be directed towards the locations with the greatest need. Emergency call-outs can be reduced, saving on travel miles. Instead, visits are prioritised according to need rather than a less efficient monthly schedule. In some cases, emergency call-outs can be avoided completely by delivering guidance to local staff via a digital assistant on a mobile app, which helps them perform some basic checks and diagnostics to help establish the nature of the problem. There might be a simple fix.
Prevention of stock loss
The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) reported that approximately one-third of all produced foods (1.3 billion tons of edible food) for human consumption is lost and wasted every year across the entire supply chain.
Predictive maintenance means problems are identified early. Action can be taken to move stock to alternative storage spaces and conduct maintenance before there is large-scale loss of stock. The value of stock held by a typical supermarket can run to six-figure sums. By preventing stock loss, retailers not only reduce unplanned costs but improve their sustainability record and reduce food waste.