Coles digitalises supply chain with world first Internet of Things solution

Coles has digitalised its supply chain with Internet of Things (IoT) technology, deploying a world first solution from Loscam and Thinxtra to monitor the location of and measure shock for 4,500 smart food bins moving poultry between farms and its distribution centre.

Coles last year announced a major digital transformation strategy, which includes increasing the resilience of its critical supply chains, such as the Protein Cold Chain, responsible for sourcing and stocking poultry.

The goal was to reduce the number of food bins it loses, understand whether and where these assets are being damaged, improve pooling of equipment for transit, and ultimately increase stock turnaround.

Following a competitive tender, Coles partnered with Loscam, which was the only company to propose an innovative IoT solution. Coles subsequently deployed 4,500 smart and foldable food bins manufactured by Loscam, and fitted these with Internet-connected devices.

The devices communicate location data in real time using Thinxtra’s national, public 0G Network. This information is available to the supermarket via LoscamOnline, a specialised tracking platform.

The combined IoT solution has enabled a connected and transparent supply chain with timely insights into geolocation, geofencing, shock impact events, temperature, and bin status, and allows Coles to optimise transport routes and equipment pooling based on usage patterns.

“The smart food bins ensure that we can track the poultry from the moment they are loaded by our suppliers at farms, right through to the time they reach our distribution centre, reinforcing our food safety standards, while saving time and minimising waste,” said Larry Kavanagh, general manager National Meat Processing, Coles.

“We partnered with Loscam to deploy a purpose-built device and portal system with Thinxtra connectivity, tailored to the specific needs of our Protein Cold Chain department, giving us full visibility into our supply chain operations in real time.

“This is a crucial step to retain our customer-focused, quality-driven service that’s reflected in our supermarkets.”

Loscam and Thinxtra’s IoT solution provides data for each individual smart food bin, rather than just the trucks transporting them.

Coles can therefore view the location of each individual asset in transit, and receives alerts when food bins aren’t where they should be and any time there is an impact, including when bins are mishandled. This reduces unnecessary damages and creates accountability for stock quality supported by reliable real-time data.

In addition, the ability to monitor asset performance, including temperature levels, creates assurance for the quality of food. This plays a major role in eliminating waste, and helps Coles maintain safe conditions during transit with the lowest possible energy consumption to support its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) objectives.

The innovative combination of foldable food bins and IoT technology reduces the cost of the asset pool required by 25 per cent, tripling the amount of empty bins returned, reducing cost and waste.

“Historical location device solutions generally fell well short of market expectations and needs,” said Daniel Bunnett, executive vice president A/NZ at Loscam.

“With a complex large-scale organisation like Coles, IoT has introduced the capabilities of asset management beyond traditional RFID or GPS tracking, with sensors that can provide insights to optimise logistical operations.

“Powered by the national Thinxtra 0G Network, our IoT devices give Coles a sustainable, more efficient way of transporting perishable poultry produce, and managing its returnable industrial packaging, all while reducing resource waste.”

Coles selected Loscam as the company’s solution proved more innovative and cost-effective than competing tracking.

The IoT technology is fast and simple to install, and does not require up-front infrastructure setup investment. The devices are also battery-powered, with a life of up to five years, giving them the ability to operate independently of any power source.

“Coles, as an iconic Australian brand, has been able to deploy Internet of Things technology to achieve economic viability and operational scalability through streamlining its critical supply chain operations,” said Nicholas Lambrou, CEO of Thinxtra.

“The IoT-powered smart food bins give full traceability of quality assurance and efficiency within the protein cold chain, all the while saving Coles business costs by avoiding unnecessary damages and better pooling equipment for transport.”

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