RFID Technology - The right solution for cold chain?

April 29, 2022
Cold Chain

When you think about cold chain products, the first thing that comes to mind is “cold.” A product that must stay within a specific temperature range to preserve its quality AND safety. When you think about RFID technology, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Inventory management. While RFID technology is effective in inventory traceability, how effective is it when it comes to temperature monitoring?

RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. There are 3 types of RFID tags: Active (powered), passive (unpowered), and semi-passive (battery-assisted).

Active tags require their own battery and internal transmitter in the form of a beacon or transponder to communicate with an RFID reader in real time within a certain radius. Passive tags are less expensive and consist of an antenna and microchip with no internal power source relying on the wave emitted by the reader to power the microchip. Semi-passive tags use the RFID’s signal to communicate, but also contain a battery.

One of the biggest challenges with RFID technology is interference between antennas. When multiple RFID tags are transmitting signals simultaneously, the reader gets “confused” with too much data. Metals and liquids can also interfere with the signal making the data questionable.

Constant communication between the devices is critical for accurate traceability, even more so with temperature-controlled products. Gaps in communication with questionable data would have a detrimental effect on temperature tracking for cold chain products. Additionally, a downside of RFID is that remote data collection removes the frequency of human eyes looking at the product. With intricate operational systems, visually checking in on a cold chain product is an essential aspect of the system.

The main benefit of RFID temperature monitoring tags is the ability to track in real time. However, this benefit may not be the right fit for all cold chain systems, as real time monitoring may not give the required data. Cold chain is not about what the product looks like right now; rather, it is more important to look at the whole journey until this point. New emerging technology seeks to improve the gaps left by a legacy system like RFID.  

Overall, RFID technology has its advantages when it comes to inventory management but using it for temperature tracking may not be your best option. Cold chain products require effective temperature monitoring that supplies accurate data for efficacy validation. So, while RFID technology may be beneficial in some areas, like tracking equipment, temperature-sensitive products rely on accurate data to determine the safety of the product. And when it comes to safety, well, safety always comes first.

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