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RFID and the Cold Chain, Part I

Last week RFID Update participated in a phone call discussion about the cold chain, which covered all aspects of the ways in which RFID is being used throughout the cold chain to improve old processes and expand into new ones.
Aug 09, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

August 9, 2005—Last week RFID Update participated in a phone call discussion about the cold chain. Moderated by Steve Roemerman, Chairman of Regan, Jacob & Sydney, the meeting covered all aspects of the ways in which RFID is being used throughout the cold chain to improve old processes and create new ones. The thought leader participants, while all actively involved in cold chain applications, came at the topic from varying perspectives: Dean Frew is CEO of RFID solutions provider Xterprise, Adrie Kalie is the RFID Program Manager of Dutch logistics giant TNT, and Kevin Brown is a Vice President of sour cream-producer Daisy Brand, where he acts as Information Systems Manager. Today is the first of a two-part series highlighting key takeaway points from the discussion.

For those new to the topic, the cold chain, as defined by Xterprise's Dean Frew, "is any supply chain that has temperature sensitive material in it, either perishables or other goods that can have their own product specifications altered by temperature." Produce, certain pharmaceuticals, dairy products, bread, and frozen foods are all examples. While the slightly misleading phrase "cold chain" implies the need for refrigeration, this is not always the case; goods which must be kept heated also qualify.

For suppliers of temperature-sensitive goods, a properly functioning cold chain is critical to the successful sale of their product. Kevin Brown discussed Daisy Brand's case: "By law we have to ship [Daisy Brand sour cream] at a certain temperature, and that temperature has to be maintained throughout the supply chain to the point where the customer receives it." Adding to the complexity, the en route temperature specification requirements to which Daisy Brand must adhere vary from customer to customer. A failure at any point in the cold chain to meet those specifications can lead to losses, product returns, and extra freight costs. "There are a lot of expenses associated with products that are damaged in the [cold] chain," said Brown, "and we bear the brunt of that."

Enter RFID, which offers a number of process improvements that can help eliminate many of the long-standing pain points that exist throughout the cold chain. First, it can provide a means to measure compliance. Using sensor-equipped RFID to monitor and validate temperature throughout the cold chain, the end customer can verify that product has been transported under its required environmental conditions. Also, by agreeing on the exact, physical placement of the RFID sensor, all parties involved in the shipment of the temperature sensitive product are afforded a standard reference point. (Currently there is a challenging variety of demands; some customers specify that ambient temperature should be the measuring point, whereas others prefer to use the product temperature itself, for example.) Finally, the tracking and tracing that RFID affords allows easy identification of where and when exceptions happen. Today, if spoiled sour cream arrives at a grocery store, it is challenging to determine at which point in the cold chain the failure occurred. Using RFID to pinpoint such failures represents a considerable process improvement.

Adrie Kalie of TNT noted that RFID cold chain applications are much larger market than just food. TNT's Life Science group, which is involved in the shipment of pharmaceuticals, clinical samples, and chemicals, receives "many, many requests" to explore opportunities for using RFID.

When considering the use of RFID in cold chain applications vis-à-vis pharmaceuticals, the greater, transformative potential for the technology becomes clear: platform convergence. It is with this theme that the second part of the cold chain series will continue tomorrow.

Take a five-minute Cold Chain Survey
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