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African Beef Gets Tracked

Participants in the Smart and Secure Tradelanes (SST) initiative are using RFID to secure and track containers of beef from Namibia to the United Kingdom.
By Jonathan Collins
Dec 10, 2004A group of companies and governmental agencies are using RFID to secure and track containers of chilled and frozen beef from Namibia to the United Kingdom. The trial, which begun last month and will conclude by the end of the year, involves two shipping routes from Africa to the U.K. and represents the first extension of the Smart and Secure Tradelanes (SST) initiative to African ports.

The goal, says Savi Technology, which is providing sensor bolts with embedded RFID tags, RFID readers and the network software for the trial, is to show how RFID can help African meat producers improve the visibility and security of their containerized cargo.

Savi's Lani Fritts
"This is an emerging market for meat. Although theft is a problem in sub-Saharan Africa, the key focus of the trial is on the quality of the meat, by tracking shipments and ensuring shipments haven't sat in one place for too long," says Lani Fritts, vice president of business development for collaboration network services at Savi Technology.

Founded in 2002, the Smart and Secure Tradelanes is an industry-driven initiative involving commercial and government participants to develop a system of automatic identification and data collection (AIDC) technologies that can be integrated with other networks such as EDI to provide security and real-time visibility across international shipping lanes. The SST system has been installed at more than 15 ports in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States. So far, more than 2,000 containers sealed with active RFID sensor bolts have been shipped in SST-related programs.

The current Namibia-to-the-U.K. trial will have tracked around 50 container shipments by its conclusion. The trial tracks containers loaded with beef from MEATCO through two shipping routes, starting in Namibia and ending in the U.K. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), the World Customs Organization (WCO), Simtag (a European Union-supported group developing a portal for sharing shipping data between multiple organizations), South African Port Operations (SAPO) and the Namibian Port Authority (Namport) are also participating in the trial.

One route involves loading beef into a refrigerated container at the Okahandja Plant in Namibia, where the container is sealed using an RFID-enabled sensor bolt. The container is transported by truck to the Port of Walvis Bay and then loaded onto a ship bound for the Port of Cape Town, in South Africa, where the tag embedded in the container's sensor bolt is read. Next, the container is loaded onto a ship headed to the Tilbury Container Services terminal in the U.K. Once the container is unloaded from the ship, an RFID reader reads the ID numbers stored on the tag and checks for any tamper evidence before the container is unlocked and its contents removed.

The other route involves placing the beef into a refrigerated truck at the Windhoek Plant in Namibia, sealing the truck with a sensor bolt and transporting the product to Table Bay Cold Stores, a storage plant in Table Bay area of Cape Town. At Table Bay, the sensor bolt's tag is read and then the meat is unloaded and put into cold storage. When ready for shipment, the meat is loaded into a refrigerated container, sealed again using an RFID-enabled sensor bolt and trucked to Cape Town where the seal is read and the container is loaded onto a ship destined for the Port of Tilbury. When the ship arrives at Tilbury, and an RFID reader reads the tag's ID numbers and checks for any tamper evidence before the container's contents are unloaded. From Tilbury, shipments from both routes are tracked using existing EDI systems.

The trial uses two types of battery-powered RFID sensor bolts. Savi's EchoPoint SmartSeal Tag 645 reusable RFID sensor seals, which are priced between $30 and $50 depending on sales volume, and a lower-priced single-use E-Seal supplied by EJ Brooks. These disposable seals use Savi's RFID and security status technology combined with EJ Brooks' physical security and packaging design. The E-Seal is set to be priced well below the cost of the reusable seals and, says Savi, will also offer companies a way to avoid the reverse logistics required by reusable seals to ensure they are returned to a location where they can be used again.

Both types of sensors bolts are able to detect and record if a container's seal has been tampered with or broken en route, as well as store data on when such events occur. Those details can be collected at any of the read points in the supply chain. Each sensors bolt is available with up to 64k of memory, although the trial is using seals with just 16k of memory.

At each read point in either route, a Savi reader—either a fixed reader or a SMR-650P mobile reader attached to PDA—is used to read the tags embedded in the sensor bolts. Each sensor bolt carries a unique seal ID number and a unique container ID. When a worker seals a container, the reader records which employee sealed the container. That data is stored in the network used to manage shipping information across the supply chain.

The network uses Savi's Transportation Security System (TSS) software system, which connects with Simtag's software portal so that data from the RFID-enabled supply chain can be integrated with Simtag's existing EDI based service. This enables container data as well as shipping departure and arrival details to be shared across the supply chain. At each read point, additional data such as the time of the read is also stored in the network, which can be configured to raise alerts if containers that should have arrived have not been read.

According to Savi, a report, which will look into any benefits that the pilot project has shown RFID can bring to the participants, will be completed by the end of January, when a decision will be made as to whether or not to extend the project.

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