Magazine Article | November 19, 2008

Use RFID To Monitor Quality, Safety Of Sensitive Goods

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

You can keep up with consumers’ demands for product quality and safety by using RFID (radio frequency identification) to track product throughout the supply chain.

Integrated Solutions, December 2008

Over the past decade, some major economical, social, and technological trends have created the setting for a revolution that is taking place in logistics chains today. The boom in global commerce, heightened consumer awareness regarding food and product safety issues, and the progress in automatic identification technology have all contributed to this shift.

Globalization and the rapid increase in the volume of international commerce has brought a significant increase in the types of products available to consumers around the world. Many goods available in stores today come from farther away than they did 20 or so years ago, and the supply chains for these products are longer and more complex. Consumers have access to a broader range of products, often at a lower cost as more goods come from regions with lower labor costs. Along with this, consumers have become increasingly aware of issues of food and product safety and authenticity. Instances of recalled toxic toys, counterfeit drugs, and tainted milk have put consumers on alert. Consumers are demanding greater transparency in supply chains, such as guaranteed and verifiable origin and product authenticity. In cases where transport conditions such as temperature can impact safety or quality — fresh food, wine, or pharmaceuticals, for example — fraud-proof solutions are needed to monitor the environmental transport conditions of the products that reach our supermarkets and our homes.

In the past, monitoring and tracking goods was done manually. This process was time-intensive and prone to human error. In addition, it did little to guard against fraud. Today, technological progress makes it possible to track and monitor transported goods automatically, without the need for human intervention and possibility of human error. We have seen the convergence of identification, sensing, and communication technologies into compact devices able to be built into almost any form factor. These devices are aware of their surroundings and location and communicate with other machines. With logistics chains, we've seen the growing use of RFID labels or tags to automatically identify pallets, cases, and even single items entering and leaving manufacturing sites and warehouses.

RFID has introduced a vast improvement in the transparency of supply chains. The technology enables managers to know where goods are at any moment, when they will arrive at the destination, and if there are any discrepancies between what has been ordered and what is being shipped. However, this functionality is only the beginning of what RFID can do. With further integration of sensors to measure temperature, pressure, vibration, and chemicals, supply chains will have even more powerful instruments to monitor the various environmental conditions in which their goods are transported.

Cost-effective RFID labels with integrated temperature sensors are already a reality in the market and are being implemented in projects worldwide. Progress in paper-thin batteries allows the latest generation of smart labels to function as data loggers that measure temperature, record the data at periodic intervals, and can later provide a complete temperature history of the product it's attached to. 

RFID is being used for many applications, from tracking blood bags for the Red Cross to finding wines for France's wine producers. Organizations that need to ship temperature-sensitive products continue to discover the advantages of cost-effective, error-free monitoring of their product's transport conditions.

In today's fast-paced business environment, networks are global, competition is fierce, and change is rapid. Deploying an RFID solution to track the perishables, pharmaceuticals, foods and beverages, vaccines, and other temperature-sensitive goods is something you may want to consider to keep up with the market's demand to prove to them that the product you are delivering is safe and of high quality.