| Written by Constance Stickler

Explore the dynamic evolution of reefer monitoring in our comprehensive article, "Cool, Connected, and Automated: Trends Shaping the Future of Reefer Monitoring." From simple thermostats to AI-powered predictive maintenance, discover how technological advancements are revolutionizing the industry. Learn about the challenges and opportunities in cybersecurity, the growing role of SaaS for smaller-scale operations, and the pivotal importance of standardisation in digital data exchange. Understand how 'smartification' and seamless monitoring ensure the integrity of perishable goods, and the critical role of environmental sustainability. Dive deeper into how digitalisation is closing the gap between industry players and the rising importance of cybersecurity in an increasingly connected world. Click to read more about how these trends are shaping a more efficient, secure, and sustainable future in reefer monitoring.

Trends in Reefer Monitoring

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Monitoring the first reefer containers was done using pretty simple technologies, especially compared to today's systems. At first, it was mainly about maintaining the desired temperature, which was achieved with mechanical cooling systems.

The settings were performed manually and based on the information provided by simple thermostats and temperature controllers inside the containers. Inspectors had to enter the containers at different points in the supply chain to record temperatures. At least, records had been made frequently, and more advanced containers had chart recorders to record temperature fluctuations.
Over time, more and more advanced sensors were used, and the display of temperature and other conditions moved outside of the container.

Today, real-time control, alarm systems, and remote management are standard. This creates new risks (keyword: data security) but also improvements at an already high level that were difficult to imagine until recently (keyword: artificial intelligence).


Reefer Monitoring Trends: Cybersecurity

Did you read the headline back then? "Major Australian port operator shuts down amid cyber security incident, affecting goods in and out of the country". In November 2023, DP World Australia had to close several ports for three days due to an incident. Australia's second largest port operator is responsible for 40 per cent of Australia's sea freight. So you can imagine what it means if the cargo can be unloaded but is not allowed to leave the port. The company was forced to admit that data was stolen, and experts suppose that the problem stemmed from a failure to fix a well-known security flaw.

This and other incidents clearly show that the supply chain is a target for hackers. When one automates reefer monitoring, particular attention must be paid to these points:

  • Data Integrity and Confidentiality
  • Access Controls
  • Authentication and Authorisation
  • Network Security
  • Device Security
  • Alerts and Anomaly Detection
  • Data Logging and Audit Trails
  • Regulatory Compliance
  • Physical Security
  • Training and Awareness


Reefer Monitoring Trends:

Artificial Intelligence for Predictive Maintenance

Artificial intelligence (AI) analyses sensor data and can predict when a refrigerated container is likely to malfunction or require maintenance.

This approach reduces the risk of the reefer failing during transport and the goods becoming damaged or spoiled. This predictive maintenance not only improves reliability but also optimises energy consumption. This, in turn, translates into cost savings and enables a sustainable supply chain.

However, predictive maintenance is just one application example for AI. It will probably be assigned even more tasks in the future:

  • Temperature Control and Predictive Analytics
  • Anomaly Detection
  • Energy Efficiency
  • Route Optimisation
  • Remote Reefer Monitoring System
  • Integration with Supply Chain Management
  • Data Analytics for Performance Optimisation
  • Compliance Monitoring
  • Environmental Monitoring

The Growing Appeal of SaaS in Small-Scale Reefer Monitoring

Increasingly, smaller-scale reefer monitoring customers favour Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions over traditional local software deployments.

The flexibility and accessibility of SaaS models contribute significantly to this trend. Unlike local deployments that require substantial upfront investments, SaaS operates in the cloud. This enables users to access monitoring software from any location with an internet connection. For smaller customers, this helps to minimise the initial expenditures and forestall the need for extensive IT resources.

SaaS solutions also offer scalability, adapting to fluctuating business needs. Businesses can easily adjust monitoring capabilities based on the volume of reefer units, optimising costs and resources. This scalability is particularly beneficial for companies with seasonal variations in operations.

Advancements in cloud technology enhance the security features of SaaS solutions, addressing concerns about data protection and system vulnerabilities. As the demand for real-time visibility in cold chain operations grows, the transition to SaaS in reefer monitoring becomes not just a preference but a strategic necessity. The ease of implementation, cost-effectiveness, and enhanced scalability make SaaS an attractive choice for smaller businesses aiming to stay competitive in a dynamic industry. Learn more about Reefer Runner 5G.


Unlocking Data-Driven Insights: The Ongoing Triumph of Digitalisation

Whilst the development towards ever more digital processes among the big players continues, more and more small providers can also benefit from digitalisation through new, scalable solutions.
A significant breakthrough for operators of small-scale reefer monitoring. Finally, they too can take advantage of the benefits that digitalisation itself, IoT and AI bring to efficiency, safety, energy management, customer satisfaction and damage reduction.

What good are the best solutions if they can't communicate with each other? In the dynamic global trade landscape, efficient and standardised digital data exchange is paramount for the smooth operation of container terminals. Two key initiatives, Terminal Industry Committee 4.0 (TIC4.0) and Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) have emerged as leaders in the drive towards standardisation, aiming to revolutionise the way digital data is exchanged at container terminals.

TIC4.0 is an initiative driven by the industry itself and focuses on leveraging the latest technologies to enhance the overall efficiency of terminal operations. One of the most essential goals is the standardisation of data formats. This would facilitate seamless communication between various supply chain stakeholders. Standard protocols will be used to eliminate data silos and streamline the information flow, which will ultimately reduce delays and enhance the reliability of container terminal operations.

Complementing TIC4.0, the Digital Container Shipping Association (DCSA) is spearheading efforts to standardise the exchange of digital data in the container shipping industry. DCSA's mission is to drive digitalisation and standardisation in container shipping, and it has developed industry-wide standards for exchanging key operational data. This includes standardised interfaces and APIs, ensuring interoperability among different systems and platforms used by terminal operators, shipping lines, and other stakeholders.

Standardisation in data exchange brings several benefits to container terminals. It enhances data accuracy, reduces manual errors, and accelerates decision-making processes. Additionally, it promotes innovation by creating a foundation for developing and integrating advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things. Read how Reefer Runner works with Tideworks TOS.


"Smartification" of Reefers

Smart reefers, equipped with IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, enable real-time monitoring of temperature, humidity, and other crucial environmental factors without the need for external devices.
However, as with any technological advancement, smart reefers present their own set of challenges. The initial investment required for these cutting-edge containers can be a significant barrier for some businesses. Integration with existing infrastructure and systems also poses a potential obstacle, as companies must adapt their processes to capitalise on the benefits of this technology fully.

Additionally, concerns regarding data security and potential cyber threats must be addressed to ensure the integrity of the information transmitted by these smart containers. Striking a balance between technological innovation and security will be crucial in fostering widespread adoption and reaping the total rewards of this transformative technology.


Seamless Reefer Monitoring Throughout Journeys

The practice of seamlessly monitoring refrigerated containers throughout their journeys has emerged as a solution to meet customers' stringent requirements and ensure the integrity of perishable goods. They demand continued visibility into their cargo's temperature, humidity, and location. This allows clear identification of the cause if the goods do not arrive at their destination as fresh and ready for use as expected.

While the monitoring works quite well at many ports, vessels and warehouses, it is sometimes still more challenging at others and during transport on trucks, barges and trains. So, there is a need to adequately cover these chapters of a reefer's path, ideally regardless of the reefer's manufacturer and model and as a plug-and-play solution. Imagine a device that instantly upgrades the reefer into being "smart", making it accessible from everywhere. The clear advantage over smart reefers is that also old reefers can be "retrofitted" with such a solution, avoiding the extremely high costs of new smart reefers.


Environmental Sustainability

The push for sustainability influences trends in refrigerated container monitoring as the industry seeks to minimise its impact on the environment. Advanced technologies are used to optimise the energy efficiency of reefer containers and reduce the CO2 emissions associated with their operation.
In addition to the partly voluntary commitments to sustainable behaviour, increasingly strict laws must be strictly adhered to. If these are known in advance, it is advisable to fulfil them in advance as soon as the opportunity arises, for example, in the event of a restructuring that is already underway.



Digitalisation continues to advance. As in other industries, there are still significant differences in the degree of digitalisation of the individual providers, but the gap is beginning to close. New devices and SaaS solutions are bringing more small players into the game. New solutions are also why practically the entire journey can be covered in real-time.

But more digitised data also means a greater risk of falling victim to hackers. As key stakeholders in the global supply chain, everyone involved in reefer monitoring must protect themselves from these threats.
AI has arrived outside its bubble at the beginning of 2023, and companies around the world are developing new tools to increase the efficiency of various industries and relieve people of dangerous work.

Many of the other developments, more or less planned, support the most critical global trend towards more sustainability through less waste and (energy) savings.

Energy Efficiency in Container Terminals Whitepaper

Delve deeper into one of our core topics: Reefer monitoring