Food wastage costs Australia about $6 billion each year. It drives suppliers, distributors, food charities and stakeholders to distraction, as they search for ways to efficiently move perishable products around the country.
Opening and closing truck doors, coupled with poor cold chain transport processes, refrigerated trucks and trailers with poor insulation and struggling refrigeration units, can quickly raise temperatures and lead to total rejection of a food cargo at its destination.
Small to medium enterprises make up substantial elements of the food supply chain, but with their limited resources they often find it difficult to commit the substantial dollars required to invest in research and development.
SuperCool Asia Pacific is an industry leader in transport refrigeration, air conditioning and equipment validation, based south of Brisbane. Eight years ago, the company invested substantially to design and build SuperTest, the only environmental test centre of its kind in Australasia.
As a result of SuperCool’s exposure to the challenges facing a growing cold chain fleet, combined with the even bigger challenge of reducing food wastage, it began developing cold chain management systems and products to assist the industry to improve energy consumption and standards, food preservation and safety.
Mark Mitchell, the company’s Managing Director, realised that to find more workable solutions for the cold chain, he needed to forge partnerships that could bring scientific and engineering expertise to the table, as well as financial support.
By accessing a government grant scheme called Australian Government’s Entrepreneurs’ Programme, SuperCool was partnered with Griffith and given funds to develop a device which can determine the thermal properties of food in refrigerated transport and cold storage.
As well as the probes, Griffith developed an algorithm to yield accurate results across a wide temperature range.
“One of the more difficult aspects of the project was the mathematical formulas behind the software and simulation capabilities. The thermal behaviour of food changes for many different reasons and the mathematics behind this has been very complex,” Mr Mitchell said.
“Griffith University researchers have been tremendous to work with. Our relationship is so strong now we could work together on many different projects in the future.”
Dr Hanan H Hamid, Research Fellow at the School of Engineering, took up the challenge to complete SuperCool’s thermal sensor project, and developed a probe that can mimic the temperature of food products.
“Involving new post-graduate students in industry and applying their research experience into practical fields is a great outcome for the Uni and industry. It wasn’t exactly my field of study, but it did involve a lot of my skills and hopefully what we’ve come up with, together, will be the solution SuperCool and others around the world might be able to apply,” Dr Hamid said.
The new probe will remove the human-measuring inefficiencies with current cold chain temperature monitoring procedures and should improve yields for the entire supply chain.
The device may also have significant benefits beyond our shores, as cold and frozen food distribution is a larger problem in nations with fewer resources than Australia. It is a problem that goes beyond mere economics and affects nutrition; with less healthy, but more durable food options being preferred because of lower costs.
At the other end the scale, certain upmarket foods are supposed to be transported at specific optimal temperatures, a more difficult task. Dr Hamid used a Camembert cheese test to calibrate the new thermal probe and significantly improved the time it took for the cheese to reach its optimal traveling temperature and the precision of the measuring instrument.
The probe, to be called SuperProbe, will be launched in 2017 after further testing by SuperCool, but was handed over by Griffith in September 2016.
Griffith Enterprise was a key partner in ensuring the success of the project, through contract and client management as well as strategic communication between government, Griffith and SuperCool.
The Entrepreneurs’ Programme is the Australian Government’s flagship initiative to drive growth and competitiveness for small and medium businesses. The program provides business access up to 12 months of financial assistance with a matched grant of up to $50,000 to undertake an identified research project.