PostNL Tracks Temperature-Sensitive Pharmaceuticals Via RFID

The company has installed SenseAnywhere active UHF transceivers and receivers within the postal vehicles it operates in Belgium.
By Claire Swedberg

The AiroSensor's accelerometer can detect when a tag is moved, as well as measure any tilt and shock. The motion detection's sensitivity is remotely programmable, and can be used to prompt the tag to beacon more frequently when it detects that the object to which it is attached is moving (thereby conserving battery power by enabling the tag to transmit less often when stationary). SenseAnywhere also offers the AssetSensor tag, which comes with an accelerometer but no temperature or humidity sensors. Both versions measure 1.61 inches by 1.26 inches by 0.87 inch in size, and either one can act as data loggers, as they will store the measurements in the event that no AccessPoint reader is in range.

In March of this year, SenseAnywhere installed its AiroSensors within several Belgium-based PostNL vehicles that transport temperature-sensitive pharmaceuticals in refrigerated compartments. The postal agency then tested that system to determine how well the technology could track each vehicle's location, as well as monitor temperatures and humidity inside the refrigerated compartments. A version of the AccessPoint receiver, known as a Mobile AccessPoint, was placed in the vehicle's cab, and was powered by the vehicle itself by being plugged into the 12-volt cigarette lighter socket. The Mobile AccessPoint device also includes GPS technology to identify the longitude and latitude of the vehicle's location, and that data, together with the temperature and humidity readings, is forwarded to the cloud-based server via a GPRS or 3G network.

Although SenseAnywhere typically sells its hardware to systems integrators that incorporate it into their own full solutions (with software and server), in the case of PostNL, SenseAnywhere is providing its own software residing in the cloud. PostNL's management can then access that data to determine where its vehicles are located, when they may be delayed and when temperatures may stray outside acceptable parameters, and receive an e-mail or text message or push notification alerts when certain conditions are met or breached. What's more, the company can share that data with government bodies requiring the tracking of such details.

Following the successful use of the initial transceivers on a few vehicles, PostNL installed AiroSensors in additional vehicles during two rollouts—one in May, the other in June. More than 40 vehicles are currently being tracked, initially in Belgium, during a long-term field trial. "Results up till now are very positive," says Bernhard Reusch, the managing director of PostNL Pharma and Care Benelux.

According to Heijnen, there are multiple benefits for users who previously utilized wired data loggers to track the temperatures of pharmaceuticals or other products. First, a wired data logger typically must be installed within a new vehicle, requiring some time before it can be put to work delivering goods. The wired data logger requires that the sensors themselves be connected to a black box that must be installed in the cab. The wired data loggers then need to be calibrated annually in order to comply with regulations, which would require that each vehicle be taken out of commission while the system is tested to ensure its proper operation.

"With the SenseAnywhere solution," Heijnen states, "your temperature and humidity data-logging suddenly becomes much easier." AiroSensors are attached to a vehicle's interior via two-sided adhesive tape, the receiver is plugged into the cigarette lighter and a connection is established with the server via cellular services. Tags can then periodically be removed from the vehicle and returned to SenseAnywhere for calibration, while a replacement could be attached within the vehicle, thereby ensuring that it will not need to be taken out of commission for any time.

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