By Claire Swedberg
Feb. 10, 2012—Ryan Systems
, a company founded by John Ryan, a retired quality-assurance administrator at the Hawaii Department of Agriculture
, has been carrying out pilot deployments of a solution that employs radio frequency identification
technology to track produce and its temperature as the food is shipped from Taiwan and California, destined for Armstrong Produce
, an Hawaiian distributor of fruits and vegetables. The pilots, launched by Ryan Systems to begin the development of an international full supply chain tracking system, were conceived while Ryan was employed at the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.
Hardware and software vendors have donated their products for the pilot, which demonstrated how the produce's locations and temperatures could be recorded across the supply chain—not only while on trucks, but also on ships—and later retrieved via RFID
. The pilots employed handheld readers to download the temperature data, while a future pilot, currently being planned, would involve a shipping container fitted with a device that can collect data (including temperature, humidity and any detection of contaminants and explosives) by means of a built-in RFID reader, and then transmit that information via satellite or cellular communication, thereby making the data available in real time.
Ryan Systems is also carrying out a pilot in Hawaii, involving Intelleflex temperature-sensor tags attached to pallets loaded with produce and shipped to various Armstrong warehouses, as well as to the store.
The Taiwanese and Californian pilots, Ryan says, are part of his effort to develop RFID-based produce-tracking solutions that would span an entire supply chain, rather than just one portion of it. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture had already conducted a series of tests in which passive EPC
RFID tags and battery-assisted passive (BAP) RFID temperature-sensing tags were used to track the temperatures of products being shipped from farms on three different Hawaiian islands to a supermarket located on Oahu (see Hawaii Plans Trace-Back Program for Fresh Food
). Beginning in 2009, the Hawaiian agency, under Ryan's leadership, also began working with Taiwanese supply chain solutions company Asia Pallet Pooling
(APP) and GS1 Hong Kong
to prepare for the Taiwanese pilot that was then completed by Ryan Systems in November 2011 (see Hawaiian Group Readies Cold-Chain RFID Pilot
The two November 2011 pilots involved the tagging of cartons filled with produce, however, rather than tagging the pallets on which those cartons were loaded, as had been the case for the previous pilots with which Ryan had been involved. Altogether, 8,500 BAP RFID sensor tags were used for cartons being shipped to Hawaii from the two locations—California and Taiwan.
In California, boxes of fresh produce—including avocados and a variety of fruits and vegetables from several northern San Diego produce farms that are members of California produce firm Guimarra
—were tagged with Intelleflex
TMT 8500 temperature sensor tags at a packinghouse in Escondido, Calif., after which they were loaded onto pallets and placed in trucks headed for the Port of Los Angeles, where they were transferred to ships destined for Honolulu. At the point at which the cartons were tagged, as well as when they were loaded into and unloaded from containers, the sensor tags were read
using Intelleflex HMR-9090 handheld readers, modified from Motorola Solutions
MC9090-G readers to include temperature sensor reading capabilities. When the cartons were placed on pallets, and when those pallets were then loaded onto trucks, the handheld readers captured each tag
's ID number, as well as temperature readings, and that information was stored on a software application known as ezTrack, hosted by GS1 Hong Kong (see GS1 Hong Kong Launches Online Track-and-Trace Platform
), using software provided by Global Tracking Systems
, based in Taipei, Taiwan. This software interpreted the sensor data and issued alerts to appropriate parties as necessary, and also stored historical sensor data about each tagged pallet or carton.
Once the tagged cartons were loaded into the vehicles, a wireless ARKNAV
CT-X8 Container Tracker unit was attached to the locking bar on the back of the truck container. Each ARKNAV unit (consisting of a GPS
unit and a GSM
and GPRS cellular modem) was attached to the container door via magnets, with a clamp that slides over the bar. The ARKNAV unit serves multiple functions. The CT-X8 has a tamper-detection system to transmit an alert, via a cellular connection, in the event that the container bar is opened. The unit sends GPS-based location data, as well as any tamper alert, to the back-end server via a cellular connection. In addition, Zen Sensing
devices that detect the presence of biochemical contaminants or explosives were wired to the ARKNAV unit. The CT-X8 unit does not have a built-in RFID reader
, but during future pilots, Ryan expects to use a modified version of that model that would be less expensive and could include an RFID interrogator
to capture temperature and humidity data, as well as incorporate satellite communications technology, in order to send that data back to the server.
While the containers were in transit via truck, and then shipped, temperature data was collected continuously by the RFID tags. That information could then be shared with Armstrong and other members of the supply chain, though Ryan says they did not view the data during the pilot.
By placing tags in a variety of locations, including at the bottom of pallets and at the top of a stack of cartons within the same container, Ryan Systems found that there could be a difference of four degrees, with temperatures ranging from 46 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius) on the bottom to 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius) on the top. Warmer temperatures, Ryan notes, lead to a shorter shelf life.
For the California-to-Hawaii pilot, Ryan says, the data collected also showed a rise of temperature during ship transportation as the products neared Honolulu, indicating a possible problem with the cooling system, as well as a natural increase in temperature around the Hawaiian Islands.
At a farm in Taiwan, Ryan Systems attached the same Intelleflex UHF
RFID temperature sensor
tags to cartons loaded with fresh produce, before they were stacked onto pallets to be transported by truck to the Taipei port, and then by ship to Honolulu. As in the California-to-Hawaii pilot, the tags were read
via Intelleflex handheld readers when the tags were attached, and again when the cartons were loaded into containers. Once the cartons were loaded into a shipping container, the ARKNAV unit was deployed to read sensor data, and to forward that information to the back-end system.
During the trial from Taiwan, the sensors detected a rise in temperature on the truck as products were transported from the packing facility (at which the cartons were loaded onto pallets) to the pier. However, they recorded a very consistent temperature onboard ship.
The reusable ARKNAV unit utilized during the pilot cost approximately $1,500. For the next pilot, Ryan says he hopes to use a less expensive GPS
and cellular tamper-detecting unit (possibly a modified version of the CT-X8 unit)—this time with a built-in RFID reader
—that would make adopting a tracking solution more affordable for transportation or food companies. The goal, he says, is to have the Zen Sensing devices transmit data via BAP RFID tags to the container-tracking unit, thereby enabling the contamination and explosive sensors to be read wirelessly from multiple locations within the container. Pilot participants are scheduled to meet in March 2012 to look at initial modifications to the units, he says, after which the pilot would then be scheduled.
If RFID is implemented for the food supply chain, Ryan says, food safety would be "driven upstream" from the retailer, by tracking the temperatures to which fresh produce and other food is exposed after being harvested. In the event that food were found to be spoiled, it would be possible to identify the conditions causing that spoilage.
In addition, Ryan Systems is piloting the Intelleflex temperature-sensing tags on shipments of produce between three of the Hawaiian Islands, from one Armstrong warehouse to another, and to the store. That pilot is ongoing, and does not include the ARKNAV unit. The tags are being attached to plastic pallets—rather than to cartons, as was the case during the Taiwanese and California pilots—and are read
using Motorola 9090-G handhelds as the products are loaded into and unloaded from containers