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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
One participant in the pilot is Armstrong Produce, a Hawaiian distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables, which will use the RFID-enabled pallets to track its produce as it is shipped between three islands: Oahu, the Big Island of Hawaii and Maui. The project includes 100 APP plastic pallets, each fitted with Intelleflex battery-assisted passive (BAP) UHF Gen 2 tags equipped with temperature sensors. When produce arrives from a Hawaiian farm at any of the firm's three distribution centers—one on each island—it will be placed on one of the reusable plastic pallets. The tag's sensor will capture the temperature at preset intervals (the rate has yet to be determined), and store that information in the transponder's 60 kilobits of memory.

In addition, members of Armstrong's staff will read the tag four times throughout the pallets' shipment from one island to another. The first read will take place when the product is loaded onto the pallet. An employee will use a modified Motorola 9090-G RFID handheld computer to read the pallet tag's unique ID number, along with the temperature data. He or she will then use the handheld device's bar-code scanner to read the bar-coded number printed on each carton stacked on the pallet. In that way, Armstrong can store the information on its own database, indicating such data as the type of product on each pallet, the name of the farm from which the produce originated, and the date on which it was picked.

The temperature data is also linked to the tag's unique RFID number, and is uploaded to GS1 Hong Kong's server. This will enable Armstrong to know exactly what is loaded onto each pallet, allowing the firm to marry temperature data (downloaded from the GS1 Hong Kong server) with historical (bar-code related) data saved on its own back-end system, such as where and when the goods were picked. The company's DC staff can also input additional information—such as the pallet's destination—into the handheld reader, and upload it to the GS1 Hong Kong server via a Wi-Fi Internet connection, or later transfer that data to a PC in one of Armstrong's offices.

The pallet is then loaded onto a truck and transported to the airport. Once the pallet is removed from the vehicle, and prior to its being loaded onto an airplane, the tag on that pallet is read again by Armstrong's staff, thereby capturing all temperature data stored since the last reading was taken at the DC. The plane transports the pallet to another island, where it is offloaded and the tag is again interrogated by Armstrong workers picking up the produce. It is then read for the fourth and final time once the pallet is received at the second distribution center.

Intelleflex software running on a handheld reader receives data from each read, interprets the temperature reads and links them to the tag's unique ID number, then forwards that information to GS1 Hong Kong's server. However, the device is also able to issue alerts if a temperature threshold has been exceeded, indicating that the produce became too warm, for example, on the plane, on the tarmac or on a truck. The Intelleflex software could then send that alert to an interested party's e-mail address or cell phone.

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