Each of these available technologies offers reliable and useful tools that can help supply chain managers move toward better control of their products. Drawbacks exist in implementing applications in supply chain management, however. Both conventional data logging and active RFID monitoring products are limiting in the following ways:
- Significant efforts are required to integrate monitoring into existing IT and cold chain management practices when first implementing an overall program;
- Cost per use is high due to cost per tag, cost per reader, return charges, reprogramming, recharging, and logistical details associated with reusability of data loggers;
- Co-locatability of multiple active RFID tags is problematic and requires higher cost readers for higher densities of tags;
- Extensive additional information infrastructure and information management are required; and
- There are added associated labor costs, and an additional technical level of expertise is required on site for proper implementation and analysis of data.
Smart Labels/Tags: Better Monitoring
Newly available temperature monitoring smart labels and tags are changing temperature monitoring in the supply chain. Label and tag products offered by companies such as PakSense (Boise, Idaho) and InfraTab (Oxnard, Calif.) feature embedded electronics with power sources. They can be used to monitor the temperature of perishable goods throughout an entire distribution cycle.
PakSense smart labels are set to acceptable temperature range specifications, which are programmed into each label at time of order. These labels can be affixed to cartons or pallets or can be placed directly against target food products. The user snaps the corner of a PakSense smart label to activate it. The user can then attach it to cases or pallets of product prior to shipment. Data from the smart label are indicated on the label surface, and detailed download data are available through a portable label reader. The smart labels are low in cost and promote broader sampling.
InfraTab’s Freshtime RFID tag products store temperatures and can be read using their RFID readers. Freshtime tags can either be applied as a single use per pallet or case, or as multi use tags for reusable containers and closed supply chains. They can also be used as “standalone” tags with on-tag display or in conjunction with RFID handheld or portal readers.
In conclusion, emerging technologies are improving food quality, and this trend will continue. The producer, the distributor, the retailer, and the consumer are all demanding that their food arrives fresh and safe. New technologies will help assure more profit, more branding opportunities, and healthy, satisfied consumers.
Jensen is founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of PakSense (Boise, Idaho). Reach him at (208) 629-3358.