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DHL Thermonet Tracks Drugs and Life-Sciences Goods With RFID Temperature Tag

The solution, employing UHF RFID tags with built-in temperature sensors applied to containers, will enable DHL's customers to maintain a record of shipping temperatures, and receive an alert if an exception occurs.
By Claire Swedberg

Customers can request a variety of modifications to the process, Bang says. For example, in advance of the shipment, they could request the tags from DHL and then apply them to the containers in which the products are being shipped. They could also request more than one tag for each container; in that case, they would have to pay for the additional tags. In addition, users could allow the shipments' recipients to read the tags using their own RFID readers, or ask that DHL's drivers carry the readers and interrogate the tags at the time of delivery.

According to DHL, a customer pays a predetermined rate for the Thermonet service, which includes access to data online, as well as temperature data and the RFID transmission of that information. The service is available around the world, Band adds, and one of the piloting companies was a worldwide corporation. However, he notes, "One of our key messages is that any size of customer can use this solution," ranging from a small biotech firm to a global pharmaceutical company (though the system is provided only for business-to-business shipments, and is not available as a service to consumers).

The tag is disposable, and is designed to be discarded at the time of receipt, along with the product's shipping box.

The solution, Bang says, provides customers with assurance that their products were shipped at a safe temperature, and they can also share that data with regulatory bodies, as necessary. In addition, if a temperature discrepancy occurs, the technology will help DHL identify the problem faster, and thus address that issue before other goods are damaged—or, at least, in time to save the goods inside the carton whose tag has measured excessively warm temperatures. That not only saves the cost of that product, DHL explains, but also spares the customer from a potential loss in sales if goods were unable to be delivered in satisfactory condition at the expected time.

At present, about 20 DHL sites worldwide have been set up as SmartSensor reading stations, with plans to expand to 60 such stations at the end of 2014. While most life-sciences and health-care companies are currently based in the United States and Europe, Bang says, China, India and Brazil are among emerging areas of growth in the pharmaceutical and medical device industries, and SmartSensor reading stations would need to be included in these countries.

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