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InnovationLogisticsNewsSupply ChainsTechnology

Phononic reinvents the way cold supply chains work

Fundamental to cold supply chains to function are the refrigerated containers that move freight from the processing floor to the consumer’s table. However, the technology has remained a bit antiquated within the space; compressors and fans have been the norm to regulate the temperature within containers. 

But innovation within the semiconductor niche has led to huge gains for the logistics industry, as solid-state cooling technology has made it easier to control and anticipate volatility in temperature and humidity conditions within containers. Phononic, a solid-state semiconductor company, is taking a disruptive approach to the existing technology to deliver precision temperature control while maintaining high energy efficiency. 

“At Phononic, we design and manufacture semiconductor chips that cool or heat with electricity. We started working on material science and perfecting these semiconductor chips, after which we moved into designing components that can help cool small devices much more effectively than they have been done before,” said Nicole Scott, director of product management at Design with Phononic. 

Post-development, Phononic devised a way to package the semiconductor chips ruggedly and reliably, helping build freezers and refrigerators that were tailor-made for the healthcare space, which continues to have the most demanding temperature control requirements. 

“We’ve now moved to the food and beverage space, creating commercial refrigerators and freezers for the industry, providing reliability and unique value in terms of improved capacity,” said Scott. “We are trying to move into a new era in which we create thermal modules, supply the semiconductor chips that complete thermal assemblies and help companies use Design with Phononic to create new products and to improve existing ones.”

What separates Phononic’s technology from traditional compressor-based technology is its ability to use thermoelectric chips that are more energy stable and energy-efficient. “We don’t have power that goes up and down as the compressor turns on, because the chips are more stable. The chips also take up much less space in the refrigerator or freezer, and thus you get more storage space inside the compartment,” said Scott. 

The thermal modules are easy to handle even when there are issues with their working. The modules resemble flat bricks, which can be taken out and replaced easily. 

Through the Design with Phononic program, the company is graduating from being a creator to an enabler, partnering with companies like Unilever to solve cold supply chain issues. Even within the last leg of the food supply chain, retailers struggle with placement of freezers and refrigerators. For instance, ice cream will always have to be placed in areas of the store with lower foot traffic, because of the large freezers. With Phononic, this will no longer be a hindrance, with the possibility of putting compact freezers on countertops or at the point-of-sale. 

“You can use totes to load a grocery order in, so that it is kept at the perfect temperature right until the customer picks it up. You can take it a step further and remove these totes from the warehouse space, put them into any delivery vehicle, and get them to the customer’s house – all while the product maintains the perfect temperature, without the need for ice packs or melting ice,” said Scott. 

The company targets the refrigeration on-demand market, wherein cooling solutions will no longer use energy to cool entire storage rooms, but by judiciously using energy to control temperatures of specific products in a storage space. 

“Phononic has an incredible market opportunity to address multiple billion-dollar markets with a total addressable market of more than $30 billion globally,” said Scott. “Through ‘Design with Phononic,’ the company now has engagements across multiple sectors and industries, enabling industrial designers and engineers to rethink what has been designed and what’s now possible to keep things cool and hot.”

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Vishnu Rajamanickam, Staff Writer

Vishnu writes editorial commentary on cutting-edge technology within the freight industry, profiles startups, and brings in perspective from industry frontrunners and thought leaders in the freight space. In his spare time, he writes neo-noir poetry, blogs about travel & living, and loves to debate about international politics. He hopes to settle down in a village and grow his own food at some point in time. But for now, he is happy to live with his wife in the middle of a German metropolitan.

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