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Argentinean Sea Terminal to Launch RFID-Based Reefer Management

TecPlata's terminal at Buenos Aries' La Plata Port is installing active RFID tags from Identec Solutions to enable uses to remotely monitor and control conditions inside refrigerated containers.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 01, 2013

Argentinean container-terminal operator TecPlata is installing an RFID-based solution to track and manage conditions within the refrigerated containers (known as reefer units) stored at Buenos Aries' La Plata Port, making it one of the early adopters of a new system provided by Identec Solutions. The terminal is scheduled to open at the end of this year. At that time, it expects to have half of the approximately 1,000 units onsite equipped with active RFID tags, as well as a number of RFID interrogators. Identec's solution, known as the Reefer Asset Management System (RAMS), has been on the market for about six months, and is already in use by freight carriers, as well as several port terminals.

The RAMS i-Q350 RCM is an active ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tag that connects to the reefer unit's microprocessor controller via a standard serial port. This connection to the microcontroller not only enables the RAMS tag to receive temperature, humidity and other data from sensors built into the reefer unit, but also allows the tag to serve as a two-way wireless modem between the back-end server and the microprocessor controller. Because of that two-way communication capability, the RAMS tag (acting like a modem) enables users such as TecPlata to not only monitor conditions, but also remotely instruct devices within the container to alter settings or turn themselves on or off.

By the time the first phase of TecPlata's new Argentinean terminal begins operation at the end of this year, the company will have installed 500 Identec RFID tags.
Identec developed the technology approximately five years ago for another customer, Sea Star Line, in partnership with Mark-It Services (MIS), the vessel company's New Jersey-based reefer services provider. Sea Star Line sought to use RFID to obtain data regarding the conditions of refrigerated containers on its vessels, and also wanted staff members on those vessels to be able to remotely address any problems identified by the system, such as a temperature registering as several degrees higher or lower than it should be.

Identec worked with Mark-It Services to develop the solution—a device that plugs into the serial port of a container's microcontroller. The cold chain industry is ready for such a system, says Michael Dempsey, Identec Solutions' general manager of ports and terminals. Currently, there are about 1.2 million refrigerated containers in use throughout the world, and the market is growing at a rate of around 4 to 5 percent annually. Consumer expectations for high levels of product freshness are placing greater demands on the logistics industry, he says, to control not only temperatures, but also the levels of certain gases, such as carbon dioxide, that can hasten spoilage if they become too high. Therefore, reefer containers all come with a standard temperature sensor, but may also include other sensors, such as one to measure carbon dioxide levels.

To track sensor data and ensure that each container maintains the necessary conditions, personnel typically walk in front of the containers, manually recording their findings via pen and paper, and changing device settings as necessary. Some containers come with power-line modems (PLMs)—devices into which a cable can be connected, not only to power the container but also to draw sensor data from it. However, Dempsey notes, many containers lack PLMs.

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