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Appliance Maker, Logistics Providers Test Passive RFID Container Seal

The developers—IPICO, E.J Brooks and Tenacent—say their new seal, which includes tamper detection, is a simpler, low-cost alternative to active tags.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 17, 2007IPICO, E.J. Brooks and Tenacent are involved in pilot tests of a low-cost, disposable RFID-enabled cargo seal in China and South Africa. Designed to tracks goods through ports and across borders, the Brooks-IPICO-Tenacent (BIT) Intermodal Electronic Container Seal consists of a passive IPICO UHF RFID tag linked to a trip wire that detects tampering and integrated with a seal designed by E.J. Brooks. Systems integrator Tenacent holds patents related to the device.

The BIT seal complies with the ISO 17712 standard, which sets minimum strength requirements for high-security seals. Its passive UHF RFID tag currently uses IPICO's proprietary RFID air-interface protocol, IP-X, but a version will be available, he says, that will support both IP-X and the EPC Gen 2 standard. The tags have up to 1 kilobit of read-write memory and can be read by border patrol or other officials handling the cargo with RFID readers.

Alwyn Hoffman
Hoffman says IPICO will carry out a pilot involving the BIT seal on a toll road in South Africa that connects Johannesburg to Durban, the largest port on the Indian Ocean coast. "We will be working with South African customs, South African ports and several logistics companies," he explains, to demonstrate how the technology works and how it could fit into the country's existing processes for verifying cargo security.

The first application of the pilot includes applying a seal to containers carrying incoming cargo. The security concern in this case is preventing tax evasion by ensuring that goods are not mismarked as being shipped to a neighboring country where customs and duties are not required. In addition, the seals are intended to ensure that the containers comply with potential future international mandates for cargo security. The private-sector participants, whom Hoffman has declined to identify, consist of South African logistics companies. These participants want increased cargo visibility, he says, to improve their own internal security and efficiency. The pilot begins in May.

The second phase of a similar pilot in China will involve working with Chinese customs and port authorities, as well as a multinational manufacturer of large household appliances that must comply with Wal-Mart mandates. The goal will be to track the cargo from China to the United States inexpensively, and to demonstrate end-to-end visibility. Phase one—attaching the seal and reading it at the manufacturing site—was undertaken at the site of the manufacturer in Qingdao. Although phase one was completed in November, the second phase (which will include local ports and customs) has not yet begun, and a start date has not been set.

IPICO says it has reduced the cost of RFID container-seal technology by developing a seal based on passive rather than active RFID. The seal supports fewer functions than those utilizing active RFID tags—which can include temperature, shock or humidity sensors—being used by some shippers. "Its primary role is supply chain security," says Alwyn Hoffman, IPICO's executive vice president. However, the BIT seal verifies only that it has not been broken—if the container is compromised in other ways, this seal will not detect it.

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