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DB Schenker Uses Temperature-logging Tags to Monitor Drug Shipments

The German logistics services provider is using radio frequency identification to track the conditions under which sensitive pharmaceuticals and reagents are transported to the United States.
By Rhea Wessel
Jul 27, 2011German logistics giant DB Schenker is employing RFID tags with temperature-logging capabilities to track the conditions under which sensitive medical goods are transported to the United States. The tags are being rolled out for temperature-tracking applications involving products forwarded by air, sea, land and rail.

According to Eleftherios Skountridakis, who leads DB Schenker's RFID implementation efforts in Germany, the temperature-tracking project for airfreight—which began with an initial pilot in January 2010, and continued in October with ongoing testing of the technology—is now utilizing 350 battery-assisted passive, reusable tags. Most were rolled out to track goods that begin their journey at DB Schenker's warehouse in Mannheim, and that must be stored at temperatures between 2 degrees and 8 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees and 46.4 degrees Fahrenheit), or between 15 degrees and 25 degrees Celsius (59 degrees and 77 degrees Fahrenheit), depending on the product.

DB Schenker uses temperature-logging RFID tags that Siemens originally designed for blood-monitoring applications.

DB Schenker relies on tags designed by Siemens that were originally created for blood-monitoring applications.

"Our research showed that the solution was the best one from a pricing, calibration and battery-life perspective," Skountridakis explains. Only the tags' software was modified, in order to make it compatible with the company's database, as well as provide greater detail for the DB Schenker application. The tags include a small LED light that blinks red multiple times if temperatures fall outside of a pre-designated range. If temperatures have remained within the defined range, the light blinks green every six seconds. The 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) tags, known as SensoTags, are manufactured by Schweizer Electronic, located in Germany. These tags contain 60 kilobytes of memory, and comply with the ISO 15693 RFID standard. Each tag is encoded with a 16-digit alphanumerical unique ID number, which is also printed on the tag's exterior as a bar code.

Each week, DB Schenker and its client—a global pharmaceuticals company that DB Schenker declines to name—decide which goods will be monitored in two temperature-controlled shipments to the United States. The selected goods are often reagents—liquid solutions transported in small jars, and used to identify illnesses. The firm's client is using RFID tags to monitor shipping temperatures as part of its quality-control measures, and to comply with regulations of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

DB Schenker is covering the cost of the RFID test, which involves shipments to five U.S. companies. The firm is utilizing the application to demonstrate to its customers its ability to manage the cold chain. "The proof will be in the RFID tags," Skountridakis states. "It's a door-opener with new customers." What's more, DB Schenker wants to verify that airlines are meeting their commitments to control temperatures.

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