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DHL Thermonet Tracks Drugs and Life-Sciences Goods With RFID Temperature Tag

The solution, employing UHF RFID tags with built-in temperature sensors applied to containers, will enable DHL's customers to maintain a record of shipping temperatures, and receive an alert if an exception occurs.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 18, 2013

DHL Global Forwarding, the air and ocean freight specialist within Deutsche Post DHL, has commercialized DHL Thermonet, an RFID-based air-freight service allowing customers to track the temperatures of their goods throughout the shipping process, for such temperature-sensitive products as pharmaceuticals or biomedical items. The technology has already been tested by several global firms, and is now available to DHL's customers worldwide, says David Bang, the CEO of LifeConEx, a DHL Global Forwarding cold-chain-services subsidiary that created Thermonet.

The technology has been many years in development, Bang reports, with the goal of monitoring customers' shipment integrity. In 2005, DHL and Lufthansa founded LifeConEx to develop a technology platform to help customers track the temperatures of goods in transit—specifically, for its life-sciences and health-care customers that manufacture highly sensitive products that must be kept cool.

At one of DHL's SmartSensor reading stations, a DHL employee in a cold room reads the temperature data stored on the RFID tag, attached to a shipping box via a plastic pouch.

In 2007, DHL developed an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) sensor tag for pharmaceutical customers, in partnership with IBM, Intel, NXP Semiconductors and SAP, which was tested by several pharmaceutical companies (see DHL Expects to Launch "Sensor Tag" Service By Midyear). DHL opted not to adopt the system, however. The LifeConEx solution is based, in part, on the first generation of that sensor tag.

In 2011, DHL bought out Lufthansa's interest in LifeConEx, which then continued the development of a technology-based temperature-management solution. This included the creation of software that stores and interprets the collected data, and alerts customers in the event that the temperature measurements exceed certain parameters. The result, the company reports, is the DHL Thermonet service.

In addition to hardware and software, the service involves DHL's Global Proactive Monitoring & Intervention Centers, to monitor data from the DHL Thermonet system and forward that information, when intervention is needed, to local Certified Life Sciences Stations—DHL's local centers for handling, storing and transporting customer shipments. For example, if a temperature has become too warm, a Life Sciences Station will receive notification of this problem, and may then send personnel to visit the site where the goods are located, in order to discern the cause and ensure that it is addressed.

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