A UK-based technology company is part of a trio leading the way in innovative supply chain solutions by combining real-time temperature monitoring with a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag for the pharmaceutical industry.
Nottingham-based Microlise has gone into partnership with delivery and logistics company DHL and RFID producer AeroScout to develop a new system for the pharmaceutical industry, which enables the real-time monitoring of product shipment temperatures throughout an extended supply chain using RFID sensors.
The partnership, along with an unnamed US-based healthcare company, will help customers to meet temperature compliance regulations set within the pharmaceutical industry.
"The real-time temperature control (tracking) is the main aspect of the pilot," DHL Exel Supply Chain RFID programme leader Jeroens Martens told in-PharmaTechnologist.com.
"Temperature control is becoming increasingly important due to stricter regulations for the transport of medications and other healthcare materials. With the new RFID sensor, shipments can be monitored along the whole supply chain which results in better visibility for our customers and less damage to stock during transit."
The first test, involving bioscience products that needed to be stored between 2°C and 8°C, was from Belgium to a DHL warehouse in Sweden on March 28. Since then five successful trips have taken place.
With the system, Microlise transport management centre software can track the position of the vehicle and temperature indication from the continuously monitoring Wi-Fi-based AeroScout Active RFID tags attached to the shipments. As a result, full real-time visibility of the location and temperature of the pharmaceutical shipments can be followed throughout the supply chain, including monitoring in the distribution centre after delivery.
If the shipment undergoes a change in temperature an alert message (SMS/email) is automatically generated so that the appropriate action can be taken.
In the past, temperature was tracked through the use of "temp tales", which is a device that registers temperature during shipment but can only be read after the shipment is delivered.
"The ongoing development of RFID can result in better solutions for our customers," said Martens, who was pleased with the positive results of the early RFID technology.
"This technology could provide us with the latest means of keeping customers informed of their shipments every step of the way while minimising losses."
A statement from the undisclosed healthcare company said: "There is a real need to maintain visibility and control of our products and shipments throughout the transport, transit and storage cycles. Real-time knowledge of location and condition is essential.
"Present and future regulatory requirements to monitor and report temperature stability during transit and storage will only be met through the use of these integrated technologies and we feel confident that this new system will allow us to achieve these objectives in an effective and economic manner."
RFID has been hotly touted as the silver bullet to protect the pharmaceutical supply chain, with supporters such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) repeatedly backing the technology.
The technology promises to avoid incidents such as in 2006, when a shipment of almost 20,000 doses of Novartis flu vaccines was accidentally frozen and the vaccines rendered ineffective.
Meanwhile, RFID could be the solution to the $40bn (€29bn) counterfeit drugs market that affects the pharmaceutical supply chain.
As a result of its potential, the RFID market is estimated to grow at 20 per cent annually with an even higher figure in the pharma industry, where the market for RFID tags is set to increase from $90m in 2006 to $2.1bn in 2016. The US pharma sector is already the second largest adopter of the technology.
Cardinal Health announced recently it would integrate RDIF technology into the operations of its Sacramento, California, pharmaceutical distribution centre by autumn 2007. The announcement comes just months after the company released the results of it RFID pilot programme, which was the health-care industry's first end-to-end test of RFID in a real-world setting. This move will act in accordance with California's recently passed pedigree legislation that will require all drugs distributed within the state to be tracked and traced as they move throughout the supply chain.