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DHL Expects to Launch "Sensor Tag" Service by Midyear

Pharmaceutical companies will be able to use the service to track the temperature and shelf life of their products as the shipping company transports them from warehouse to store.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 19, 2007Global shipping company DHL says it intends to release its newly developed RFID sensor tag to its pharmaceutical customers by the second half of 2007. Announced last month, the sensor tag is being developed by DHL and a team of RFID technology vendors. The service will allow pharmaceutical companies to use RFID to track the temperature and shelf life of products being shipped via DHL from warehouse to store.

DHL, a division of Deutsche Post World Net, began piloting the system last June and completed several tests with an unspecified global pharmaceutical company, shipping diagnostic material and vaccines from Europe to the United States in the second half of 2006. According to Keith Ulrich, head of technology and innovation management at Deutsche Post World Net, the group intends to continue testing further.

The sensor tag consists of a long narrow piece of paper with an embedded EPC Gen 2 RFID inlay and data-storing microchip wired to a temperature sensor. Mounted on one end is the sensor, while the opposite end contains the RFID inlay and data-storing microchip. The latter is intended for storing temperature readings and other information about the product, which can be downloaded by handheld readers along the supply chain. The company declines to reveal how much memory the microchip contains, or how many temperature readings it can hold.

DHL developed the tag as part of the DHL Innovation Initiative, in partnership with IBM, Intel, NXP Semiconductor and SAP. The initiative, Ulrich says, is designed to develop solutions that will increase supply chain efficiency.

The initiative partners began working with a global pharmaceutical company in Europe in early 2006, says Ulrich, tagging specific boxes before shipping them from their location in Europe. They then tested reads of the boxes as they left the warehouse and arrived at the departing and arriving airports. The company had been utilizing a temperature data logger that would accompany some shipments by air, tracking temperature reads. The logger would then be sent back to the pharmaceutical company for interrogating. "The existing loggers were expensive and difficult to maintain," says Stefan Wilms, Deutsche Post World Net's technology and innovation manager. Moreover, he says, they did not provide real-time temperature information.

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