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RFID Pharma Cold Chain Monitoring Solution Launches

Logistics giant DHL, RTLS firm AeroScout, and vehicle tracking and fleet asset management solutions provider Microlise have together developed a cold chain solution to track and ensure regulatory compliance of pharmaceuticals as they travel through the supply chain.
May 21, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

May 21, 2007—Logistics giant DHL, real-time location systems (RTLS) firm AeroScout, and vehicle tracking and fleet asset management solutions provider Microlise have together developed a cold chain solution to track and ensure regulatory compliance of pharmaceuticals as they travel through the supply chain. The system uses a combination of active RFID, temperature sensors, and GPS to monitor the location and temperature of shipments in real-time.

The so-called "cold chain" refers to any supply chain of products that must be shipped under a set of prescribed environmental conditions like temperature or humidity. Certain foods and pharmaceuticals are examples of such products. Sometimes the conditions under which the products must be kept are mandated by governmental regulations; other times the conditions are determined and enforced internally by the manufacturer itself to maintain a high standard of quality (think wine).

The new solution from DHL, AeroScout, and Microlise is designed specially for monitoring the shipping temperature of pharmaceuticals, a product category that is typically highly regulated. "The pharmaceutical industry is facing more regulation than ever before and our customers are increasingly required to track their shipments to ensure that they have been transported under the correct conditions," said the RFID program leader at DHL Exel Supply Chain.

The system has already been installed in trailers from Austria's Mueller Transporte, a Vienna-based company that specializes in temperature-controlled shipment services. Meuller is testing the solution on a Belgium-Sweden route for shipments of BioScience products, which must be kept in temperatures between two and eight degrees Celsius.

AeroScout WiFi-based active RFID tags with integrated temperature sensors are attached to shipments of the products. The tags take constant temperature readings, which are relayed wirelessly to a WiFi- and GPS-equipped tracking unit from Microlise housed within the trailer. This unit combines its own GPS-based location data with the temperature readings from the tags within the trailer, and sends it all back via GPRS to a central server maintained by Microlise. When the shipments have been unloaded from the trailer for storage in the distribution center, the temperature and location data can continue being collected and transmitted to the central server using the DC's WiFi access points.

The system has been configured with business rules that are based on the designated environmental conditions. If at any point those rules are broken -- the trailer temperature rises to nine degrees, for example -- SMS and email alerts notify the appropriate parties.

The real-time nature of the solution is a key improvement over existing systems. Those systems may take temperature readings throughout shipment, but they only make the temperature data available for reading by administrators upon shipment delivery, once the damage has been done. The real-time monitoring combined with alert notfication funcationality enables immediate, corrective action to be taken in the event of a problem, even while the goods are still in transit.

AeroScout has established a strong presence in the RTLS space with contracts in healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing. In February the company released its next-generation T3 Tag which offers more efficient power consumption and a flatter form factor (see RTLS Innovation Continues with New Card-Size Tags). In March it announced $21 million in Series C venture funding as well as a major asset-tracking deployment for City Link, an express delivery service in the UK (see Major Roll-out Sees 15k Active RFID Tags Deployed). In total 15,000 tags were deployed for City Link, making the system one of the world's largest WiFi-based active RFID tag installations, according to AeroScout. Competitors to the company include Ekahau and Zebra Technologies-owned WhereNet.
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