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How Foodservice Operators Can Get Started with IoT
Food Services

How Foodservice Operators Can Get Started with IoT

Getting started with IoT In foodservice operations involves factors like connectivity, devices, data, deployment, and more.

Internet of Things (IoT) solutions can clearly deliver significant cost savings opportunities, as discussed in Part 1 of our blog, “Preserving Profit Margins in Foodservices with IoT.” But how do foodservice operators get started? What are the must-have requirements to ensure scalability and success? Part 2 addresses these questions while exploring the strategic components needed for a successful IoT journey. Navigating the vast array of options can be daunting. If you’re wondering where to begin, start by defining your organization's overarching goals for integrating innovations and consider the following criteria during your evaluation process.

Connectivity Factors

Network connectivity plays a fundamental role in the functionality, performance, and reliability of an IoT solution and respective business applications. The following are important factors to consider when selecting a connectivity option.

  • Signal Penetrability: Certain scenarios, especially in foodservice, require wireless technology that provides strong signal penetration or robust coverage in dynamic environments. For example, to collect temperature readings inside commercial refrigerators and freezers, you need technology capable of penetrating the unit’s dense metal exterior. One such technology protocol is LoRaWAN®, a low-power wide-area network protocol (LPWAN) that can reliably penetrate dense materials, making it ideal for temperature monitoring and food safety compliance.  
  • Security: Protecting devices, networks, and data from cyber threats and unauthorized access is critical, meaning robust security measures, including encryption, authentication, and access controls, help safeguard IoT infrastructure. Networks like LoRaWAN operate independently, meaning they don’t need to touch corporate networks to function. Per the  protocol’s standard, LoRaWAN packets are encrypted from device to cloud using AES end-to-end. As an additional, optional layer of security, some providers implement a secure backhaul measure to ensure gateways only communicate to a designated cloud infrastructure over an encrypted channel, further elevating security.
  • Scalability: To achieve true scale, foodservice enterprises should consider using an open, standards-based protocol, such as LoRaWAN, because they provide a uniform framework that promotes interoperability and flexibility. LoRaWAN is supported globally by the LoRa Alliance, the international non-profit standards body with over 500 members. The collaborative efforts of the LoRa Alliance drive continuous innovation and improvement, ensuring the technology evolves to meet growing demands. Plus, with a vast ecosystem of device and solution providers, foodservice companies can easily deploy multiple IoT use cases on the same network infrastructure, reducing complexity, speeding up deployment, and providing a lower total cost of ownership (TCO). These attributes are paramount when evaluating against point solutions, which involve multiple, disjointed networks - leading to data silos, increased IT overhead, and complex and costly management.For restaurants that have multiple locations throughout the US and globally, scalability is even more important to accommodate and capacitate high volumes of devices and data. A scalable network ensures seamless operations, efficient management, and the ability to quickly adapt to growing business demands.
  • Reliability: For maximum dependability and availability for critical IoT applications, foodservice businesses should focus on reliability factors such as globally redundant, cloud-based infrastructure and around-the-clock live monitoring and alerting, typically found in an enterprise-grade platform. As a result, end-users benefit from high network uptime to power their IoT applications while ensuring accurate, timely data transmission. Moreover, the ability for devices and gateways to cache data and resend it once reconnected is crucial, especially for applications related to food safety. In the event of connectivity or power interruptions, discerning data insights, such as temperatures in refrigerators or freezers during the outage, is essential.

Device Selection

In the realm of IoT devices, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Different devices offer varying levels of functionality, from supporting single use cases to housing multiple sensors for scalable applications. The following represent considerations to bear in mind when evaluating device options.

  • Battery Life: When making choices, consider the use case and impact of the device’s battery life on the total cost of ownership (TCO). For most use cases, longer battery life is ideal and practical for lower TCO while simplifying device management by foregoing the need for constant battery replacements. However, some application scenarios may benefit from a shorter battery life. For example, if the use case requires a smaller form factor, choosing a device with a shorter battery life may be sensible to meet the appropriate size requirements of the device. Tracking or monitoring an asset with a 3–5-year life expectancy, for instance, doesn’t need a device supporting over 10 years of battery, which would ultimately incur additional expenses. Conversely, prioritizing longer battery life is both appropriate and cost-effective for business applications requiring devices in the field for several years or more. In either case, devices that come equipped with user-replaceable batteries are ideal.
  • Sensing Capabilities: IoT devices operate with either single sensor or multi-sensor functionality. Single sensors measure and report data from one specific source, making them ideal when only one type of data is required (e.g., measuring the temperature of a refrigeration unit). Conversely, multi-sensor IoT devices integrate several sensors capable of capturing and reporting a variety of data types simultaneously – offering versatility and scale by measuring multiple parameters such as temperature, humidity, motion, and more. Deciding between single or multi-sensor devices depends upon the use case at hand, immediate business needs, and future goals. For example, to deploy remote monitoring solutions such as temperature or water leak monitoring, leveraging a versatile multi-sensor device configurable for both scenarios is ideal - enabling restaurant operators to increase use cases with simplicity, dependability, and speed. 
  • Reporting Capabilities: Defining device reporting capabilities helps to discern the most suitable selection for your restaurant’s business application. Some devices report binary values (e.g. wet/not wet, open/closed, on/off) upon state change, while other devices continuously report discrete values (e.g. temperature, humidity, pressure readings) at a specified frequency. The choice between these reporting methods depends on the specific needs of your foodservice operation. For instance, monitoring temperatures in refrigerators and freezers would require continuous temperature data (discrete values at a specified frequency) to ensure compliance with food safety standards, whereas a leak detection solution may only need to alert staff when a leak is detected (binary value upon state change).
  • Time to Reset: This is important for devices that are meant to detect a state change, such as a water leak sensor or door open/close sensor. For a leak sensor, time to reset refers to how quickly the device dries after a leak incident which impacts how quickly you can start detecting leaks again. Depending on a customer’s particular use case, a faster or slower reset time might be preferential. For example, in areas that should be consistently dry, such as data centers, a sensor with a slow reset time may be acceptable because water presence is rare, and if a leak is detected, the chances of another leak occurring soon thereafter are quite low – meaning it’s acceptable if a sensor takes a few hours to reset. Conversely, if monitoring leaks in an area that’s frequently cleaned or mopped, it’s beneficial to have the ability to manually dry the leak sensor to indicate a leak event verse a cleaning event.
  • Customizable Sensitivity: Some devices have varying levels of programmable sensitivity to environmental triggers. For example, in the leak detection scenario, some devices can be configured to only report if a large amount of water is present, or, in more fragile ecosystems, they can be configured to report droplets of water when detected.  
  • Environmental Factors: Environmental factors, such as the temperature operating range of the device, should also be considered when navigating device options. For example, for temperature monitoring use cases, the required operating range will depend on the whether you’re looking to monitor cold holding units (e.g. refrigerators and freezers), hot holding equipment (e.g. warming racks), or both.  To maximize sensing capabilities, some devices support accessories, like temperature probes, that increase the device’s temperature operating range so that it can be used for more extreme environmental conditions, such as ultra-low temperature (ULT) freezers. What’s more, look at the ingress protection (IP) rating of devices, which indicates two separate levels of protection represented by two digits – the first showing the level of protection against solid objects rated from 0-6, and the second showing the level of protection against liquids rated from 0-8. This rating is important when selecting IoT devices to make certain that they can withstand environmental conditions they will be deployed in. The second value is particularly vital for foodservices as devices will be exposed to water from sinks, dishwashers, and other appliances, along with cleaning procedures (like water jets).  
  • Form Factor/Size: Selecting the appropriate form factor ensures the IoT device will fit seamlessly in its intended environment, among other vital considerations related to deployment, usability, efficiency, cost, and more. When evaluating IoT devices, consider the deployment environment and use case to understand the following:
    • Size constraints: will devices be installed in small spaces that require a small form factor?
    • Ergonomics: will devices be installed on handheld equipment where ergonomics need to be considered?
    • Concealment needs: will devices be installed in public, high-traffic environments necessitating a discrete form factor for easy concealment?
    • Flexibility: does the device need to conform to a specific area, e.g. wrapped around a pipe?

Considering these factors ultimately ensures the device’s alignment with specific needs and constraints of the use case, along with the practicality, effectiveness, and viability of the IoT solution.  

  • Product Safety/Quality Standards: For solutions that will be installed in areas where food is stored, prepared, or consumed, look for devices that are made with FDA approved food-grade plastics. These materials meet stringent food safety standards and are resistant to harsh conditions often found in kitchens, such as regular cleaning. In addition to selecting materials that meet food safety standards, seek out devices with recognized product quality and safety certifications. Certain certifications, such as CE certification in the EU, are required and ensure compliance with essential health, safety, and environmental protection requirements. Optional but recommended certifications, like UL certification, a North American standard, recognized globally, ensures the device meets rigorous safety and quality standards, reducing the risk of fire, electric shock, and injury. There are also protocol-specific certifications, such as the LoRaWAN device certification, which validate compliance with established communication standards, ensuring optimal functionality, reliability, and interoperability. The LoRaWAN Certification is backed by the technical expertise of LoRa Alliance Authorized Test Labs (ATLs). ATLs are accredited to ISO/IEC17025 which verifies that testing will provide consistent and accurate results.
  • Firmware Updates Over the Air (FUOTA): Since foodservice companies often have hundreds or even thousands of locations geographically, FUOTA is critical for maintaining and efficiently updating devices in the field. It facilitates continuous improvement by enabling timely delivery of performance enhancements, new features, and security patches, without the need for on-site technicians, reducing operational expenses.
  • Flexible Mounting Options: In foodservice environments, versatile mounting options are pivotal to accommodate diverse use cases and installation in less conventional areas. Seek devices that offer dynamic mounting options to ensure seamless integration according to your needs - e.g., devices that can be mounted via screws, adhesive, or magnets. Temperature sensing in fridges or freezers, for example, may benefit best from magnetic mounting as cold holding units commonly experience changing temperature and humidity conditions that can interfere with adhesion, which causes devices to become dislodged and/or damaged. Gain even more flexibility and security with the option to secure devices via zip tie or stainless-steel ball chain to internal racks or hooks when no magnetic surface is available or to further protect the device from falling if dislodged.  

Deployment Capabilities and Installation Support

When deploying IoT technologies, the smallest details contribute to the solution's overall success. IoT deployments not only require familiarity with the technology, but an intimate understanding of the use case and business requirements. For example, when rolling out a temperature monitoring solution in refrigerators and freezers, there are unique considerations related to sensor placement that are critical for effective food safety monitoring. The mounting approach is also crucial to ensure devices are properly secured and protected from the fast-paced operations of a restaurant, where frequent fridge door openings, high foot traffic, and rigorous cleaning activities can easily dislodge improperly secured devices.

Look for a provider that offers flexible deployment options – whether it’s providing a self-install kit with detailed setup instructions on how to do it in-house or professional deployment services to ensure expeditious and successful onboarding. Finding a partner who can provide the right IoT network and end-to-end deployment services streamlines everything from project ideation to execution, implementation, and ongoing support. Additionally, it’s important to think beyond the initial IoT rollout. Securing a partner who can support relocations, new store openings, or expansions is fundamental to make sure IoT technology is seamlessly integrated and consistently operational across all locations.

Ongoing Support

Completing an IoT deployment is just the beginning. After successful implementation and integration with systems, processes, and workflows, and as end-users adjust to a new way of working, they’ll require ongoing support – especially with changing requirements, expectations, and business needs.  

Planning the delivery of an IoT solution without considering the post-install support of that infrastructure is much like putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Ensure you’re maximizing the value your solution offers by working with a partner capable of supporting you throughout the solution’s lifetime via remote and in-field resources. This is a fundamental part of the longevity, performance, and sustainment of an IoT implementation.  

Your Vision, Our Expertise: Jumpstart Your IoT Initiative

Contact MachineQ today to learn more about getting started with IoT in foodservices for measurable, lasting success.  

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