From Tattletale to Truthful


OVER THE PAST few years there have been significant advances in technology that have radically affected the trucking industry. Arguably, the Amazon Effect has had many far-reaching implications. In our own day-to-day lives, we have come to expect overnight and even same-day delivery—along with the ability to track our purchases within short delivery timeframes.

These expectations have inevitably spilled over into the business world. Today, customers are becoming more and more aware of the information that surrounds them, and their expectations are rapidly increasing. Big data has raised the bar for shippers as have government regulations such as the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA). In response, shippers and carriers have been forced to look for economical ways to provide tracking data. In response to that demand, temperature recorder manufacturers have developed a variety of solutions at a variety of price points. But which one is right for your business?

First a bit of background. The thermometer, as we know it, was invented in 1612 by Santorio Santorii. He sealed liquid inside a glass tube, observing how it moved up the tube as it expanded. In 1829, with the application of electricity, Leopoldo Nobili created the first temperature recording device. However, it was not until 1932 that C.H. Meyers created a device that measured the electrical resistance of a length of platinum wire. This device is generally considered the most accurate type of temperature sensor and is the grandfather of today’s recording devices.

How Does a Temperature Recorder Work?

When the temperature recorder first made its appearance, carriers were quick to nickname it the “Tattletale.” Most temperature recorders have an internal thermistor or thermocouple. Sampling and measurement are periodically taken and digitally stored or recorded on thermal paper. Many recorders have a built-in display of data with newer models having an out-of-tolerance warning. Most recorders are small (the size of a mobile phone), battery powered, and portable; most electronic recorders are also equipped with a microprocessor, internal memory for data storage and sensors. It is becoming more and more common for temperature recorders to interface with personal computers and smart phones for set up, control and analysis.

Recorder Types & Uses

There are several different types of recorders in the marketplace today. Choices range from a basic strip chart recorder, a recorder chip, or an electronic recorder that will provide you with GPS, humidity, and a host of other types of data. There are fixed recording solutions and autonomous disposable recorders. Which type of recorder you use depends on the commodity whose temperature you are tracking.

strip chart recorders

Strip Chart Recorders

The strip chart recorder is also referred to as the “brown bag” recorder. The permanent records produced by these recorders serve as corroborating evidence for insurance claims, quality assurance documentation, and protection of your valuable products. Having been around for nearly a century, they have proven to be very reliable. Some of the benefits of the strip chart recorder are the price, availability and data accessibility. At less than $10 per unit on average, the strip chart recorder will provide a record of the environmental conditions encountered during storage and transportation of temperature-sensitive commodities. Typical tracking times for this recorder is up to 90 days. Strip chart recorders are light and durable, provide maximum accuracy, and generate a permanent record of transit conditions.

The largest negative to this recorder type is that the data cannot be retrieved until the trip has ended. And without the physical recorder, the data can never be retrieved.

Electronic Recorders

Electronic recorders report temperature, location, and light exposure during transport of temperature-sensitive products. There are also recorders that will track humidity. The typical tracking time limitation is 45 days. They provide “live” tracking online and provide reports that are downloadable from a web application. They often come with a light sensor that detects door openings. This indicates unloading upon arrival, or unexpected opening that could be due to cargo tampering. They are also light and durable, typically smaller than the strip chart unit.

The largest negative to this recorder type is the price. At $35 per unit and up, the ROI becomes questionable unless the cargo value is extremely high.

There are many uses for these recording devices. They are occasionally utilized in the chemical industry, however, the largest industries that use temperature recorders today are the food and life sciences industries.

Food Industry

Within the food industry, the most common use of temperature recorders is for tracking perishable agricultural products. It is not uncommon for truckloads of highly sensitive products such as strawberries or cherries to have a temperature recorder. Because of its reliability and economical pricing, the most used recorder is the strip chart recorder.

Life Sciences

You do not have to look very far to see how important the life sciences industry is to the world. Vaccines that require constant temperature control are in the headlines daily. These are extremely high value items from both a monetary and an emotional standpoint. Protecting medications and vaccines to ensure the products quality is extremely important. The most used recorder in this industry is the electronic recorder with GPS capability. It provides a constant flow of location data that is required for these very sensitive items.

The Future

Government regulations have driven several industries to ensure compliance for product safety. The recall of products has become more commonplace and manufacturers are now looking for a creation-to-consumption tracking solution. Temperature recorders are being utilized as a key component of the possible solution. RFID technology, along with the microprocessors found inside the electronic recorders, allow shippers, transporters, and consumers the visibility needed to ensure the safest handling of temperature-sensitive products. It is not unrealistic to imagine an agnostic platform that will someday provide data and visibility of refrigerated products. One day, with a simple scan, the consumer will be able to view the history of the product prior to consumption.

Greg Quast is Vice President of Freight Consolidation at RLS Logistics, a supply chain solutions provider to the frozen and refrigerated food industry, located in Newfield New Jersey. He can be reached at [email protected]