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SmartMate: Digitalizing the Food Industry

Keep track of temperatures, meet regulations and support a healthy bottom line

Family-owned company Tingstad has been working with consumables since 1959. Their product portfolio includes everything from paper towels and toilet paper to food containers and packaging and even workwear – essentially, they provide every product that is not the main focus of their customers’ businesses, giving their customers the tools they need to have a better working day. Tingstad’s main customer base is the food industry – restaurants and grocery stores – which is where they saw an opportunity to address one of that industry’s biggest challenges: monitoring temperatures in refrigerators. The result is SmartMate, the app that enables customers to keep track of temperatures and meet regulations around food storage while supporting a healthy bottom line, as well as addressing sustainability. And IoT is at the heart of the solution.

Most countries have laws and regulations around food when it comes to cooking, cooling, and storage. What this means is that the food industry must ensure they have good practices when it comes to maintaining the right temperature of food products.  Additionally, they must address food waste, because food waste is not just bad for the environment, it’s a cost – if you’re throwing away food, you’re throwing away profit. Tingstad’s SmartMate HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) system is an easy-to-use self-control program that uses sensors and models to connect equipment for restaurants, stores, and anyone else who needs to monitor their commercial refrigerators.

“We have a lot of customers who have demands on monitoring temperatures in refrigerators and freezers who wanted a system that would alert them when a problem arose, such as the temperature goes too low or high, or some other unusual behavior,” explains Tobias Mattsson, E-commerce Manager, Tingstad. “And connecting the equipment has a number of benefits beyond just knowing the temperature. For example, if a restaurant wants to insure their refrigerators and freezers, it’s a big annual cost. Just say you are running a seafood restaurant and you have stored 15,000 SEK worth of löjrom (whitefish roe) in the freezer and it goes out overnight. Unless the restaurant has extended insurance for their equipment, they won’t be reimbursed for their loss by the insurance company – and that extended insurance can cost ten to twenty thousand SEK a year.”

There is also the human factor to consider: it’s not always that the refrigerator or the freezer has broken down – often, someone forgot to close the door before closing up for the night and no one knows until staff arrives the following day to set up for lunch. By then it’s too late to save the food. And because restaurants operate on small margins, any loss can be devastating to their bottom line. Knowing that an alarm will be sent as soon as a problem is detected means that someone can go check on things and the contents of the refrigerator or freezer can be saved before all is lost.

How SmartMate works

The SmartMate system is a product as a service and uses connected sensors to monitor everything related to the temperature of your equipment, with data sent to the cloud every ten minutes and then shared in the app. The customer is in control of the parameters, such as max and mean temperatures and sets the alarms, such as when they should be triggered. In practice this means that the customer is in control of things and can ensure they’re not getting alarms all the time – they only get them when certain parameters are breached.

“When an alarm is sent a report is generated, something that is required with these types of equipment,” says Tobias Mattsson. “The report will include what happened and how it was dealt with. The reports on the equipment go back two years and gives a clear picture of the history of the equipment, which keeps the restaurant compliant with regulations.”

SmartMate is also designed to serve customers of all sizes. Digitalization isn’t easy even for the biggest companies and restaurants are often independent entities operating on tight budgets.

“The customer response has been great,” says Tobias Mattsson. “They feel that this solution is easy and that they can sleep well at night, because their worst nightmare is having all their product destroyed. These days restaurants are maximizing seating and have just enough food on hand to supply the day. This means they don’t have the same number of freezers and refrigerators that they used to have, kitchens are smaller, and they’re taking food deliveries every day. If that food is lost, they won’t be able to serve their customers. SmartMate is a cheap insurance to get security over their food.”

SmartMate also has appeal beyond the food industry, with agriculture customers using it to measure humidity in greenhouses. We’re looking at a lot of different areas where SmartMate can be beneficial.

Tobias Mattsson E-commerce Manager Tingstad

IoT, technology & connectivity management

The SmartMate sensors and modems are connected through Tele2 IoT, with the SIMs being managed with 2CONTROL (Cisco IoT Control Center).

“We’re using 2CONTROL to investigate if anything and wrong or if there is any unusual behavior,” says Tobias Mattsson. “It’s a very easy to understand system and a great solution for looking at a large number of accounts at once. We can also easily configure things, such as setting the amount of data we want to send, which makes it easy for us to keep our costs under control.

“We have some systems in place that have maybe 35 sensors and 3 modems, while others have two sensors and one modem. We can be cost effective with 2CONTROL because we can put the subscriptions on different data scales, meaning with one subscription we send 50 megabytes a day, which means we pay a lot less than if we’re sending 500.  It’s been very helpful to change the parameters and it saves us a lot of money.”

Having a long battery life on the sensors was crucial for Tingstad, which is why they’ve chosen to use LTE-M.  This means they can install a sensor and forget about it for years as far as power. Refrigerators and freezers don’t get replaced very often, so having a sensor that will last and not need to be switched out regularly was important.

As far as working with Tele2 IoT, Tobias Mattsson says it’s been great.

“We have a really good collaboration. When we have had a problem, the Tele2 IoT team has taken it seriously and handed things professionally. The technician Emil in particular did everything to make our project happen. Tele2 IoT has been listening to our challenges and helping us to solve them.  The team really wants us to succeed in our markets. For example, when we were starting up in Norway, Tele2 IoT asked us to send a SmartMate system so they could look at it and see how it is built. It’s been a really good relationship for us.”

The future

With both SmartMate and the rest of Tingstad’s physical product portfolio, the goal is always to help their customers have a really easy workday, so they are looking into every corner and turning over every rock to find ways to deliver on their promise to customers.

“We are looking at developing the app to add more and more features in the food area,” says Tobias Mattsson. This will include things like energy optimization. A lot of restaurants have over-capacity in the compressor. We had one customer who has their freezer at -30° Celsius, which is a lot. A good temperature would be around minus 20-22° Celsius, so having that information on the temperature and adjusting accordingly can save them around 20% while optimizing energy consumption. We’re also looking at waste control, so that they can weigh their trash. We’ll be able to give them tips about what they can do with beets or kale or wherever they have wastage.”

In addition to monitoring things around food, Tingstad is also looking at what else can be measured, such as sensors on toilets so the cleaning crew can see how many times the door has opened and closed and then make a logical conclusion about when it should be cleaned.

“Sensors can be used for so much,” says Tobias Mattsson. “You can measure when toilet paper dispensers need refills or soap dispensers – the sky is the limit when it comes to SmartMate.”