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Pharma Label Maker to Test Tags That Record Temps

The credit-card-sized 13.56 MHz tags can measure and log up to 500 temperature readings, allowing drugmakers and other manufacturers to know the temperature at which their products were stored throughout the supply chain.
By Rhea Wessel
Sep 25, 2006Italian startup Montalbano Technology has created a family of RFID tags that log data about the intensity and duration of exposure to modifying environmental factors such as light, temperature and humidity. The semi-passive 13.56 MHz tags are credit-card-sized are compliant with ISO 15693 and can be read by any standard RFID interrogator.

Daniele Grosso, the general manager at Montalbano Technology in Genoa, says a German company specializing in pharmaceutical labeling will begin testing the temperature-sensing tags, which are market-ready, since its clients—multinational drugmakers—have shown interest in the technology. The tags will allow drugmakers to know the temperature at which drugs were stored at various points in the supply chain. Grosso has declined to release the name of the company but says it offers high-tech labels to the pharmaceuticals market.

Daniele Grosso
Montalbano Technology was created about three years ago, after Montalbano Industria Agroalimentare, a Tuscany supplier of vegetable and fish products, experimented in house with chemical and mechanical devices to control and monitor perishable products.

"At some point, they realized that the solution should have been based on microelectronics, so they set up a new technology division and split it from the company," says Grosso, who was hired from Cadence Design Systems to lead the division before the spin-off. After the spin-off, in October of last year, the new company, Montalbano Technology, worked with electronics design firm Accent to develop its products. Based in Vimercate, Italy, Accent was founded in 1993 as a joint venture between STMicroelectronics (STM) and Cadence.

"The whole design has been engineered by Accent, based on STM technology," Grosso says.

The pharmaceutical industry was the first industry to test the use of RFID tags with temperature sensors since costly drugs can spoil when stored at the wrong temperature. The food industry, where margins are much lower but volumes are much higher, shares similar problems—i.e., billions of dollars are lost each year worldwide on spoiled meat, poultry, cheese and produce. Grosso says Montalbano's tags could be used on shipments of food, cut flowers, drugs and various other perishable items.

The tags are modular, which means users can add such optional components as extra memory or extra sensors, or increase the accuracy of time measurement. The tags are also programmable, allowing users to define their own criteria for recording sensor data. For instance, a standard chip would log temperature at a defined acquisition rate (every 10 minutes, for instance). A user, however, could program the chip's software to record only those temperatures outside of a predefined range, and to record more often if temperatures were to reach these levels—or a person might program the tag to predict the time goods might spoil.

"If you knew the curve of when a given perishable product starts to spoil, you could actually write software to predict and forecast the expiration date given the therma-profile," says Grosso.

Finally, the tags are configurable after being programmed and implemented in an application, enabling users to set basic parameters such as the data-acquisition rate (i.e., how often temperature will be logged) or temperature thresholds (the temperature range in which the tag will log data).

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