Magazine Article | August 1, 2005

SYSCO Uses RFID To Monitor Food Quality

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
Integrated Solutions, August 2005

When food products leave the controlled environment of a distribution center, there are few cost-effective mechanisms to insure continuous environmental control and access control through the rest of the supply chain. Food service marketing and distribution organization SYSCO Corporation recently completed a pilot test for an RFID and sensor-enabled system for cold chain management to solve this problem. The solution uses RFID tags from Alien Technology Corp. and 3PL Solutions' Distribution Access eXception (DAX) in addition to multipoint sensors, IrDA (Infrared Data Association) communications options, GPS (global positioning system), and integrated RFID data capture. It was developed and tested to address the need for verification and documentation of product quality, shipment integrity, and security for food products in transit. The DAX pilot program field testing, which was conducted in the SYSCO Frozen Foods and Produce supply chains, addresses dedicated LTL (less than truckload) and intermodal shipments.

The DAX system was built using Alien's long-range, high-performance 2450 MHz (microwave) frequency BAP (battery-assisted passive) system, including the ALR-2850 reader and the ALB-2484 tags, which enable SYSCO to record sensor inputs for later wireless retrieval. The tags can be interfaced with any external sensors, such as temperature sensors, tamper indicators, or shock sensors.

Based on user input during the field test, 3PL Solutions and Alien Technology developed a unique IrDA query functionality for the DAX Container Integrity Tag (DAX-CIT) via a common Palm Pilot or similar low-cost IrDA enabled device. This functionality supplements the longer-range, RFID-based query capability, providing multiple methods for the receiving dock to interrogate the DAX-CIT for both environmental compliance and authorized accesses during shipment. With this ability, operations personnel can redirect a shipment away from the facility for closer examination prior to delivering food products.

The DAX system incorporates a user-controlled number and sensors deployed on a per-load basis, which incorporate shipment details in the DAX sensor platform. Also, the system provides real-time point-of-receipt documentation that can be immediately reviewed and communicated as needed. This is a key difference from other cold chain tracking systems, where the unit must be shipped back to the owner to download the data.