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McDonald's, Other Companies Test TAG Sensors' RFID Temperature Loggers

The data logger—in the form of a passive RFID inlay and a battery-powered sensor embedded in an adhesive label—is designed to provide a low-cost method of tracking products' environmental conditions throughout the supply chain.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 04, 2016

A European McDonald's restaurant operator is one of several companies piloting an RFID-based solution designed to provide real-time temperature and location data regarding such items as fresh food, pharmaceuticals and other temperature-sensitive products, from the point of harvesting or manufacture to the consumer. The system, provided by Norwegian company TAG Sensors, features a data logger consisting of a Near Field Communication (NFC) high-frequency (HF) or EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive RFID chip, as well as a temperature sensor, a clock, an antenna and a printed battery. The full solution also includes RFID readers and printers, cloud-based software and a smartphone app. Companies like the European McDonald's restaurant operator can use TAG Sensors' solution not only to identify where goods are located (by reading the tags throughout the supply chain), but also to learn the temperatures to which the tagged goods have been exposed, and when, in order to identify any discrepancies before a product reaches a consumer.

The European McDonald's entity has been testing the technology since earlier this year, according to Knut Nygard, the company's cofounder and CEO. Other European companies, including food producers and pharmaceutical firms, are also either testing or preparing to test the system.

TAG Sensors' data logger (shown here with its circuitry exposed) consists of a passive RFID inlay, a temperature sensor, a clock, a printed battery and a battery-powered sensor embedded in an adhesive label.
Traditionally, companies that must monitor the temperatures of goods face multiple challenges. Since products often change hands several times or more, traveling long distances geographically in the process, it can be difficult to obtain a full picture of those products' temperature history. Even if a producer tracks the temperatures on its own site, and if retailers or distributors do the same, there are often black holes in which it is hard to know what is happening at any given time, such as when goods are standing on a dock door waiting to be loaded onto or off a truck or airplane, or at a train station or port. Data loggers are generally not designed to provide real-time data, and most passive RFID sensors can provide only the current temperature rather than historical temperature data.

Currently, few temperature-logger solutions are capable of following individual temperature-sensitive products from production to consumption, Nygard says, noting that what is available can be expensive. In fact, he adds, the lowest price on temperature loggers among competitors at present is approximately €15 to €20 ($17 to $22) per unit. "We are, therefore, developing a low-cost RFID temperature logger label," he states.

With other data loggers on the market, Nygard says, users sometimes need to deploy a single fixed temperature logger in the production facilities, another for fixed temperature control within the transporting unit, a third fixed unit in the warehouse and a fourth in the distribution facilities. But these solutions do not provide what he calls a holistic solution—one that provides a full view into each item's entire life cycle as it moves through the supply chain. "The weakest link," he says, "is often in the transit between controlled facilities."

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