Also attributing to traceability initiatives, RFID technology is now used to monitor temperatures. Specialty RFID tags equipped with battery-powered sensors allow manufacturers to collect temperature data from pallets, bins, and totes. By reading the RFID tag, manufacturers can make sure a pallet maintains a certain temperature. And, if the pallet has hit a temperature above or below a certain threshold at any point in its lifecycle, the manufacturer can discard the product or adjust the expiration data as appropriate. Similarly, RFID tags now exist that can monitor humidity, pressure, and event movement, arming users with even more data to ensure food safety.
Notably, data collected via RFID is non-duplicable, as it results from a machine-to-machine transaction. Therefore, food manufacturers can authenticate processes, as well as sufficiently meet audit requirements with confidence in their data’s integrity.
RFID Trends—What’s Next?
As the RFID market continues to grow, there are several trends and technologies poised to make an impact. As they explore the potential benefits of RFID, food and beverage manufacturers should keep the following in mind.
Bluetooth low-energy (BLE) tags. As aforementioned, active/Wi-Fi RFID tags run on the costly side, especially in comparison to passive tags. There is finally a more cost-effective alternative: BLE tags. A technology within the ever-evolving Internet of Things, or IoT, BLE tags are not only less expensive than active tags, but they are even easier to deploy—requiring a simple connection to a Bluetooth-enabled device, like a smartphone or a mobile computer. A food manufacturer can track assets by placing a BLE tag to each item and mounting a single reader, or “Cloud Node,” in the center of its facility. The manufacturer obtains the same real-time location information as it would with a Wi-Fi/active tag, but without the need for new infrastructure or multiple access points.
Temperature, humidity, and motion sensing. Passive and active RFID tags are becoming more intelligent—tags with built-in sensors that can be read via RFID readers are available to help monitor more than location events. Temperature monitoring of food products is a useful tool, without the need for returnable tracking devices. In addition, each carrier is equipped with its own sensor, so it is easy to monitor variations in pallet position and pallets that are re-built by freight organizations. Other sensors, like humidity and motion, can determine different characteristics about the products as they move through the supply chain.
Hybrid RFID systems. Systems that combine active and passive RFID technology are ideal for food manufacturers tracking both high-volume/low-cost and low-volume/high-cost assets. Yet, in the past, users had to rely on two different software interfaces to obtain tracking information from each type of tag. New hybrid systems provide a unified visibility solution for tracking all types of assets. As assets are tracked, operators can view real-time data from a software interface. It is even possible to use BLE tags in these systems, so hybrid solutions offer even more flexibility and affordability.
Memory space. Many of today’s RFID tags have additional space for storing information beyond a simple identifier. These tags serve as tiny note pads, figuratively speaking, or flash drives. This is especially useful for food manufacturers, who can now store expiration dates, lot numbers, and more, thereby enhancing the audit trail to alleviate recalls.
Pre-printed tags. Although it is convenient to print RFID labels on demand at a manufacturer’s site, doing so requires time and internal resources for managing printers—performing calibrations, fixing jams, etc. A growing trend across industries, many enterprises are purchasing pre-printed/pre-encoded labels from reputable consumables vendors. By ordering thousands of pre-printed tags, manufacturers no longer have to worry about printing onsite and can focus on more important tasks at hand (like ensuring food safety).
RFID is a powerful tool with many great tracking and tracing applications in the food and beverage industry. However, before diving into a complete system deployment, take a step back. Here are a few key considerations for a successful RFID implementation.