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Active E-Seals Expedite Cargo Shipments in Taiwan

Customs officials are testing the use of ZigBee-based RFID electronic seals for two "green channels," enabling them to track cargo traveling from one location to another, thereby eliminating the need for extra inspections.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 27, 2011Three years into a four-year project in Taiwan involving the implementation of RFID on shipping containers at sea terminals and airports, for the purpose of importing and exporting goods, the nation's General Directorate of Customs (DGOC) has initiated two "green channels" for truck-transported shipments within Taiwan, using electronic seals (e-seals) containing active RFID tags.

A green channel refers to the method by which goods pass through customs. A container moving through a green channel can proceed without the need for additional inspections, while a crate within a red channel must stop so that the goods contained within can be inspected and declared.

CSIST's battery-powered e-seal contains a ZigBee-based RFID tag, as well as GPS and cellular communications technologies.

Since 2009, GS1 Taiwan has been working with Taiwan Customs officials regarding the use of EPCglobal standards, for a project to develop a technology solution that includes passive RFID seals on some containers (see GS1 Taiwan Pushes for EPCglobal E-seal Standard, Taiwan Customs Officials Adopt RFID-enabled Container Seals and RFID News Roundup: GS1 Taiwan Expands E-seal Initiative).

The project's latest phase—the establishment of green channels via active RFID e-seals—is intended to improve the visibility of transit cargo containers as they are transported by truck, thereby increasing security in a standardized way that could enable the sharing of information between customs offices or shippers and logistics providers located in multiple countries. The technology is also intended to reduce costs, by eliminating the need for customs escorts to travel with containers holding cargo deemed at high risk for illegal activity, as well as increase the efficiency of the customs process. With the use of e-seals on containers, customs officials can monitor the crates' movements remotely, and share this information with authorized parties. One of the two channels, between two Taiwan sea ports, went live in November 2010, while the other, between Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport and a bonded warehouse operated by Everterminal Co. Ltd. (Everter), was launched in June of this year. In both cases, shipments traveling by truck are being tracked via a combination of GPS, active RFID tags and cellular connections, using a single e-seal device.

The software to manage the e-seal-related data was developed by research institute Chung-shan Institute of Science and Technology (CSIST). In addition to the software, CSIST also developed an optical character recognition (OCR) system to photograph truck license plates and container serial numbers, along with the RFID hardware, including the seals themselves and RFID readers. GS1 Taiwan is serving as promoter for the implementations involving active RFID tags, while the organization's advisor role is isolated to the usage of passive technology based on EPCglobal standards in other parts of the project.

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