September 12, 2022

The Future of USB Data Loggers: Pros, Cons, Alternatives

USB data loggers have long dominated the supply chain. This is changing. Risks associated with USB data loggers have led many to consider newer high-tech wireless data loggers. For the cold chain, a low-tech solution, QR codes may well be the best solution once you consider all the parameters.
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In the modern world, conditions have to be measured far away from computer networks. We need to know about weather in remote locations, soil conditions for crops, temperatures in vaccine refrigerators, and much more. Where does the data come from?
We will not put a computer network in a farmer’s field. Obviously, that wouldn’t work. We use data loggers to gather the information that’s uploaded to remote computer networks.


Transportation and warehousing are areas where data loggers are most important. This is especially true in the cold chain — the supply chain where perishable items must stay at specific temperatures.

What Is a Data Logger?

A data logger is an electronic device with an array of sensors. While these sensors can measure many conditions within supply chains, such as: 

  • Temperature
  • Light
  • Humidity
  • Shock

The logger stores the data before it’s transferred into a computer network. You can set loggers to transmit data in various time increments from seconds to hours apart. Most loggers run on battery power. Storage capacity and battery life are among the most important factors when determining which type of logger to use. 

It’s common in the industry to divide all data loggers into two categories: passive and active loggers. Passive devices log data and require some action to be performed in order to load the data. Active loggers act “online” and provide real-time information.

How the data logger transfers its information to the computer network is one of the most crucial considerations when choosing a logger. You have many choices, such as: 

  • USB Data Loggers
  • Ethernet Data Loggers
  • Bluetooth Data Loggers
  • E-Ink Dynamic QR Code Data Loggers

USB data loggers have long dominated the supply chain. This is changing. Risks associated with USB data loggers have led many to consider newer high-tech wireless data loggers. For the cold chain, a low-tech solution, QR codes may well be the best solution once you consider all the parameters. 

Data Loggers Used in Supply Chain Monitoring

When picking a data logger for supply chain monitoring, the first question to ask is what product the data logger will monitor. If it’s for monitoring a crate of nuts and bolts, the only necessary capability may be to determine the item’s location.

If the data logger is monitoring the transport of computer parts, shock will be important. Too much turbulence will damage fragile items. For food products that require refrigeration, temperature and humidity are crucial.

On the extreme end of the spectrum, if the data logger is monitoring the conditions throughout the transport of a COVID-19 vaccine, the full set of sensors is necessary. Also, you’ll need a data logger that can withstand the extreme cold conditions required for these vaccines. A frozen data logger that no longer works isn’t much help.

The rest of this article will discuss the pros and cons of the many types of data loggers.  

Why Has USB Been the Dominant Form of Data Logger for Supply Chain Monitoring?

The fact that USB data loggers are inexpensive and small has contributed to their popularity. These loggers only need to be plugged into a computer to provide data transfer from the logger into your network. 

Unlike some newer technologies like RFID or Wi-Fi, you don’t need to build out new infrastructure for USB loggers. You only need to attach the loggers to your inventory. At stops along the supply chain, others can plug the logger into their computer’s USB ports to upload data into the cloud. It’s a simple process.

USB loggers are durable enough to work in some challenging environments along the cold chain. They have a 2–3 year battery life. With wireless loggers, the drain of the radio transmissions usually shortens battery life.

The Cons of USB Data Loggers

There are many drawbacks to USB data loggers. Of course, there wouldn’t be so many alternatives if they were perfect. Some drawbacks include:

  • You must physically retrieve the logger to transfer data
  • They’re a significant cyber-security risk

Whenever you need to retrieve data from a USB logger, you’ll have to go get the logger and plug it into your computer. This takes a lot of time and effort. But, the hacking risks are what’s causing some companies to ban USB loggers.

With a USB logger attached to goods traveling through the supply chain, at any point, a disgruntled employee could retrieve the USB data logger. They could plug it into their computer and download viruses, worms, and other types of malicious software. The users downstream from where the virus’ entry point to the logger will suffer the effects when they plug the logger into their computer.

Infecting your customers’ computers with viruses is not a good way to maintain business relations. That’s why many companies are switching to other forms of data loggers.

Alternatives to USB Data Loggers

When deciding which data logger to purchase, consider the challenges you’ll face with the products you’re shipping:

  1. If the data logger will be in extreme cold, you’ll want to know if it can handle the temperatures.
  2. How long will the battery last?
  3. How much data can you store on the data logger?
  4. Will you need to install special readers or wireless networks to use the data loggers?
  5. How is it compatible with your current systems?
  6. What is your industry’s compliance requirements for data loggers, and how your new possible device can handle those?

These are all important questions to consider when deciding which type of data logger is best for you.

Ethernet

With these data loggers, you’ll attach ethernet cables.

Pros: direct connection to the data logger without having to go to each shipment to retrieve data.

Cons: Of course, if you have a lot of data loggers in your warehouse, you’ll have a lot of cables. To keep from tripping every time you walk through the warehouse, you’ll need extensive building wiring to keep outlets as close to the data loggers as possible. That’s expensive. But if you’re worried about the limitations of wireless data loggers, this may be the solution for you.

With ethernet, there may be some cyber-security hazards, like with USB data loggers, since you attach the loggers directly to your network. 

Wireless Data Loggers

Wireless data loggers solve the problem of having cables all over your warehouse.

Pros:

  1. With most wireless systems, you won’t have to go to each data logger to retrieve the data.
  2. Wireless systems are more secure than USB data loggers or Ethernet data loggers because it’s more difficult to write data on to a wireless data logger than with a USB logger. The sensors write the data. The reading devices usually can’t write data to the data logger. That means it’s very difficult to transmit a virus to these devices.

Cons:

There can be issues with obstructions blocking wireless transmissions. 

Infrastructure requirements for wireless systems vary. Some systems require no new infrastructure. Others can compete with the set-up costs of an ethernet system. Also, the range of wireless systems varies greatly.  

Battery life and cost of the data loggers vary based on the type of wireless system. We’ll discuss the more common wireless systems in the sections below.

Bluetooth

Bluetooth passive wireless data loggers have a lot going for them.

They have up to a 100-foot range — sometimes even farther. They don’t require new infrastructure, since cell phones can read the data from them.

Like USB data loggers, they’re small, inexpensive, and easy to deploy. The battery life for bluetooth data loggers is usually around 12 months. It can be shorter if the logger is checking the sensors more often. It can be longer with newer low power bluetooth technology. Like most wireless loggers, obstructions such as walls severely limit the range. 

The ease of reading the data with any smartphone means the next warehouse in the supply chain also won’t need special infrastructure to read the data logger. That means more reads as the products move through the supply chain. That also means it’s more likely to catch an issue before it becomes too severe.

E-Ink Dynamic QR Code Data Loggers

This is a competitor to all the fancy technologies mentioned above. It may be the best choice of all. It solves issues like misreads related to obstructions with wireless radio transmissions. It’s ultra-secure, but you don’t have to be within 1.5 inches of it. You can read it from several feet away just as you do with any QR code with the camera of your smartphone, meaning this is a passive type of logger.

These QR codes are on an e-ink surface similar to ebook readers like Amazon Kindle. The QR code will change based on the data stored on the data logger. When your phone reads the QR code, it is getting the data from the logger. Then, your phone transmits the data to the cloud where it’s available to your computer network.

These readers are ultra-durable. They may be the best solution for monitoring super-cold storage temperatures like those required for COVID-19 vaccines. They can function at temperatures in a range of -100 degrees celsius to 110 degrees Celsius.

If these data loggers are taking measurements at 15-minute intervals, the battery should last for four years. One of these data loggers can store up to 20,000 measurements. One QR code is enough to transmit the information for 1,700 measurements. The only infrastructure needed for these data loggers is your smartphone.

Conclusion

Will USB data loggers maintain their dominance? Probably not. Many companies fear the cybersecurity risks with USB data loggers. And too many new technologies have surpassed the capabilities of USB data loggers.

Logmore provides what we believe is the best replacement for USB data loggers: E-Ink Dynamic QR Code data loggers. Like USB loggers, you don’t need additional infrastructure. They’re small, inexpensive, and easy to deploy. They’re extremely durable. These loggers avoid the security issues inherent in USB loggers while allowing you to scan the data at a distance like the wireless options.

QR Code data loggers aren’t the most technologically advanced choice available. But this low technology innovation may be the best fit solution everyone is looking for in a data logger. Contact us today for a demonstration of our products. We look forward to providing you with the best data logger experience on the market.