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Hawaiian Group Readies Cold-Chain RFID Pilot

The state's agricultural department will test RFID-enabled temperature sensors in reusable pallets as they are used to ship produce between the islands, while information will be stored on an Internet-based application hosted by GS1 Hong Kong.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 20, 2010After three years of testing RFID solutions to food-safety challenges, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture is preparing to launch a new pilot intended to test whether temperature sensors in RFID tags, attached to reusable plastic pallets, would enable members of the produce supply chain to monitor the condition of products as they are shipped from one Hawaiian island to another. The pilot is an international effort, with data stored and shared on a server provided by GS1 Hong Kong, and involving reusable plastic pallets, RFID software and consulting provided by Asia Pallet Pooling (APP), a Taiwanese supply chain solutions firm that is also largely financing the project. If the four-month pilot goes well, John M. Ryan, the administrator of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture's Quality Assurance Division, hopes it could be used outside of Hawaii to track produce shipped between the state and Asia, South America or North America.

Three years ago, the agricultural department was testing RFID to provide traceability for produce from local Hawaiian farms through the supply chain, all the way to retail stores (see Hawaii Plans Trace-Back Program for Fresh Food). The pilot, Ryan says—involving three Hawaiian farms that attached EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags to each carton of produce—proved that the technology works. However, he notes, the cost of software, tags and readers all made the solution too expensive for many small Hawaiian farmers.

The project includes 100 plastic pallets, each fitted with a transparent plastic housing containing an RFID sensor tag (shown here on the bottom of a pallet turned on its edge).

This new pilot, set to commence in the next few weeks, takes a different approach that Ryan predicts could prove to be a better, lower-costing solution, by using temperature-sensor RFID tags on pallets, and bar codes on cartons, as well as a data "cloud" solution from GS1 Hong Kong that would enable interested parties to access information via the Internet regarding a particular shipment.

Ryan says Asia Pallet Pooling contacted him in November 2009 to suggest the pilot. The company donated the pallets, as well as integration services, for the pilot, and assisted Intelleflex in modifying a Motorola 9090-G RFID handheld reader (so that it could accommodate the battery-assisted tags), and in developing software to run on that device. For several years, Ryan had been planning to conduct a pilot of temperature-sensing technology, but the cost of hardware, in addition to the lack of funding, had prevented it until now.

APP has designed a lightweight 48-inch by 40-inch plastic pallet fitted with a transparent plastic bracket that houses an RFID tag equipped with a temperature sensor. The company's solution includes a portal in which data is stored on an application hosted by GS1 Hong Kong—a system known as ezTrack (see GS1 Hong Kong Launches Online Track-and-Trace Platform)—in which data from each temperature reading could be received and stored, and then be accessed by members of the supply chain.

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