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Best Use of RFID in a Service: A Prescription for Spoiled Drugs

DHL is a winner of the first annual RFID Journal Awards. DHL's RFID temperature-monitoring solution gives pharmaceutical companies more control over their distribution process, which could save them millions of dollars.
By Jennifer Zaino
Jun 01, 2007On May 2, 2007, RFID Journal presented the first-ever RFID Journal Awards for outstanding achievement in radio frequency identification technology, at RFID Journal LIVE! 2007, our fifth annual conference and exhibition. DHL was the winner for Best Use of RFID in a Service.

DHL began to develop the Smart Temperature Sensor Project in 2006, when the DHL Innovation Center launched its RFID initiative. It pooled the knowledge of its partners and customers to discover opportunities that have far-reaching benefits for all the parties involved.

DHL, the express and logistics brand of Deutsche Post World Net (DPWN), saw the problem as a challenge—and an opportunity. It developed an RFID- and sensor-based system to provide pharmaceutical companies with real-time visibility into the temperature status of their shipments. "What is important for this new solution is we can react during the transport process, not just after," says Keith Ulrich, director of DPWN's Technology and Innovation Management Group, which manages all projects of the DHL Innovation Initiative, the DHL Innovation Center near Cologne, Germany, and the group's patents.

Pharmaceutical companies can lose millions of dollars if a pallet of drugs is rendered unsuitable for use because temperatures fluctuated out of bounds. And the number of temperature-sensitive drugs is on the rise, thanks to advances in biotechnology and the trend toward more liquid-based drugs that are particularly susceptible to degradation brought on by temperature change. Experts say roughly one-third of all cold chain shipments are related to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors.

"The other trend affecting the industry is more regulations, especially in the U.S.," says Ulrich. "The U.S. government would like to make sure that the products are from the original producer, and that the products are still working. To have a reliable and controllable new solution, which is also cost efficient [to address all these trends], is very important for the [pharmaceutical] industry."

And for people, adds Ulrich. A medication that hasn't been correctly controlled for temperature through the whole process may be ineffective for the patient who takes it. Worse yet, certain items for which temperature hasn't been controlled or monitored—such as therapeutic proteins used to treat cancer—may even prove dangerous.

DHL's RFID- and sensor-based system tracks the temperature of shipments at various points from departure to arrival and makes that data available to customers in real time over the Web. With access to this information, pharmaceutical companies can, if necessary, recall a shipment and quickly get a replacement underway.
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