A new radio frequency identification (RFID) tag for temperature-monitoring purposes has been developed for pharmaceutical products during transportation, where fluctuations in temperature can alert the logistics chain of impending disasters.

A subsidiary of global courier company DHL, German-based DHL Innovation Initiative has partnered up with IBM, Intel, Philips and SAP to develop a novel RFID sensor tag that monitors temperatures of pharmaceutical products in transit, without having to open the packaging. In addition, the sensor tag can be attached close to the product, not just on the inside of packaging as with other tags.

The sensor tag is a combination of a temperature sensor and RFID chip. It measures data, so that the logistics chain consisting of senders, recipients and inspectors will be able to check the condition of pharmaceuticals at any time during transportation. Temperature fluctuations outside of the pre-defined temperature range may have severe and costly effects on the lifespan of for example vaccines.

This was seen in 2006 when a shipment of almost 20,000 doses of Novartis’ flu vaccines was accidentally frozen, making the vaccines ineffective. The shipment was recalled together with another 500,000 doses, as a precaution.

The global demand for new developments within RFID used in pharmaceuticals earned $18 million during 2005 and will potentially reach to $464.8 million in 2012, according to a Frost & Sullivan report. The smart technology market is driven by the need for new clinical trial compliance-and brand protection measures.

Smart packaging is not yet widely used in the pharmaceutical industry, even though there is a buzz of activity in this field, as several companies are designing various new RFIDs and other smart packaging technologies.

The RFID sensor tag enables us to offer a new, sustainable perspective, not only for the pharmaceutical industry but for all industries looking for a solution to the sensitive logistical task of temperature-controlled transports”, said Keith Ulrich, head of technology and innovation management at DHL’s parent Deutsche Post World Net.