Most people know that farmers are early risers, heading to their fields before dawn. But how many people realize that farmers are also early adopters of digital technology? In 2018, the Berlin-based Digital Farming Conference survey showed that more than half of growers already apply digital technologies – such as using sensors to monitor plant nutrient needs or to optimize the dosages of crop-protection products. In fact, agricultural experts like to say that "precision farming is decision farming" – for them, data collection and connectivity give farmers information they need to find solutions for increasing yield and efficiency, and for maintaining field health.
In many industries, digitalization is more than a buzzword: All along the fresh food supply chain, technologies are advancing rapidly. Following digital monitoring in fields or orchards, fresh produce continues its data-creation journey, recorded through Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), and cellular or satellite track-and-trace technologies. Logistics operations trace shipments to ensure an unbroken cold chain, distribution centers track incoming and outgoing deliveries, and retailers use digital surveillance to manage stock and avoid theft. According to a recent SCM Future of Supply Chain survey, more than two-thirds of supply chain managers believe that digitalization is not only important but disruptive. In other words, it is changing the way their companies work.
Along with agricultural and logistical businesses, food retailing is a major industry that is reinventing itself. Digitalization is also changing how IFCO works. Among pooling systems, IFCO leads in digital services, from online ordering through MyIFCO™ platform to our SmartGuardian™, which monitors washing and sanitation processes and stores this data. At our wash center in Villmergen, Switzerland, for example, sensor technology at the washing center contributes to nearly 100 percent automation.
Our digitalization efforts are centered around customer needs. We have created platforms and mobile tools that make ordering, managing and recollection of IFCO RPCs easier. The data we collect helps us to better understand our customers, so we can come up with better ways to serve them. Through meaningful innovation, we support their continuous efforts to be more efficient. We have developed such tools to save our customers both time and money, and to help integrate their business flow. Equally as important, collecting and storing data increases transparency in our wash processes, and beyond. Automation and digitalization help our customers in the food industry meet strict regulations, consistently provide high quality products and strongly focus on product safety. Digitalization also helps us manage our own processes more efficiently. Using digital technologies, we can react more flexibly to changes in individual orders or in the market.
As an enabler of automation, IFCO RPCs offer efficiency, speed, precision, consistency, flexibility and data-based operations for distribution centers. We already offer a pallet-level audit trail. Improved capacity and data analysis may soon allow seamless food tracking along the entire supply chain for every IFCO RPC. End-to-end monitoring is possible, for example, by equipping packaging solutions with sensors, and provides consistent real-time visibility. This can help retailers increase efficiency, lower costs, improve product quality, lengthen shelf life of perishables and reduce food waste.
All of these digital possibilities give us more flexibility to meet, respond to – or even anticipate – customer needs all along the supply chain!