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‘No dumb bags anymore’: HZPC leads the way in the development of ‘smart’ bulk bags for potato seed

Potato variety and seed trading company HZPC recently unveiled details about a pilot project – dubbed ‘smart big bags’ – that harnesses the potential of the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) to share information about the seed contained in bulk bags, and also track certain variables during the transportation of seed potatoes.

The company says in a news article that a total of 1100 big (bulk/tote) bags will be fitted with an intelligent computer chip as part of the implementation of the pilot project. Customers will be enabled to scan the chip with a smartphone when delivered to easily obtain essential cultivation details and advice that are associated with the potato variety that was shipped in the bags. Moreover, 100 of these chips will also be equipped with a microsensor that will register temperature conditions during the transportation of the bags.

Insight into transport conditions

HZPC says the pilot project is a continuation of a trial with 80 smart big bags that were delivered to customers in Spain last season.

“That turned out to be successful, which is why we are now expanding the scale”, says marketing specialist Hans Langedijk. “In order to find out whether the downloading of variety information is handled equally well everywhere, we will now be sending 1100 smart big bags to Bulgaria, France, Italy, Portugal, Serbia, Spain and Turkey. When reading the information on the chip via their own smartphone, each buyer receives our cultivation advice directly in their own language. In this way we make sharing information as easy as possible”.

New to the pilot this time is that a part of the chips is provided with a temperature sensor.

Says Langedijk: “We wondered whether the smart big bags could also be used to measure transport conditions, because that information could help us better identify any complaints about the seed potatoes later on. It can take weeks for parties to transport to ware growers. There are sometimes transfers between truck, train and boat, and we know temperature fluctuations do not improve the quality of the seed potatoes. That is why we would like to have more insight into the conditions during the shipment process. In this pilot we focus only on temperature, but for the future we are also thinking of sensors for measuring humidity, CO2 and shock intensity”.

Internet of things

According to developer Niels Postma of Tapp.online, the possibilities of the smart chip are endless. He succeeded in integrating the existing Near Field Communication (NFC) technology – which is used for contactless payments – into paper. This makes it relatively easy to bring technical intelligence to places and products where the Internet of Things was not previously available.

“Its application is very accessible to most everyone”, says Postma. “Anyone with a smartphone can activate the magnetic field of the chip and therefore download information. Anywhere in the world. And there’s more to gain from this technology. Over the past few months we have succeeded in integrating a microsensor into the chip to monitor the transport temperature. If its application works out well in HZPC’s pilot, we can add other functions as well”.

Printed batteries

The innovative paper chips from Tapp.online function completely without power supply. The latest chips with added microsensor do have minuscule printed batteries. These batteries occasionally generate small pulses of power.

“The temperature is measured and stored according to a certain interval,” explains Postma. “We’re going to visualize the data we generate with this. Via a digital map we can see where the big bags are located, what the temperature fluctuations are and whether customers can read out the cultivation advices with their smartphone after receiving them. For HZPC it is important to have a good view on this, because the better customers are informed about the relevant variety, the greater the chance that they carefully handle the seed potatoes. In this way they benefit the most of their HZPC variety.”

Focus on new varieties

“We use the smart big bags in this pilot mainly with our new varieties”, Langedijk continues. “If growers are still unfamiliar with a seed potato variety, they will download the variety and cultivation information sooner and the willingness to learn is more likely. Moreover, especially with young varieties it is important to closely monitor the entire process – including factors such as transport conditions – so that we can better identify any bottlenecks in practice.

“The commitment of our sales managers and distributors in that process is essential. They are therefore closely involved in this pilot and stimulate local customers to read out the smart big bags upon arrival. The first trial in Spain went well and we are all curious to see how the pilot will work out on a larger scale.”

Growing step by step

The first smart big bags are already on their way and delivery will continue until April 2021. This will be followed by an evaluation of the results.

Langedijk: “If this pilot confirms our positive expectations, we hope to gradually broaden the possibilities of the Internet of Things in our delivery process. Whether or not we will integrate smart chips as standard in the future will depend in part on the costs, which can go up with tens of thousands of big bags every year.

“But if this innovation catches on more widely in the market, the price will drop automatically. In the meantime, we are investing in the pilot because we are keen to share knowledge and hope to gain more insight into transport conditions”.

Source: HZPC. Original news article here

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