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DHL uses product-level track and trace system for high-value air cargo

Brian McKenna, News and Site Editor

Expensive vaccines and boxes of sushi are among the objects that companies need to track and trace more intensively in an increasingly globalised world.

Deutsche Post DHL, an international logistics and delivery firm, turned to a track and trace system based on technology from OnAsset Intelligence in 2009 to meet a pharmaceutical company’s international “cold chain” needs for temperature-controlled deliveries. OnAsset, based in Irving, Texas, in the US, is a provider of machine-to-machine wireless asset tracking systems. Its products include wireless sensor hardware, called Sentry, which can be placed inside individual packages and is available in a FlightSafe mode for monitoring air cargo.

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Jane Seeley, now managing director at cold-chain specialist company GeoStasis, was at DHL Solutions & Innovations when it engaged OnAsset in a pilot study for the pharmaceutical client. Speaking in a personal capacity, she said the fact that the Sentry device travels inside parcels across the entire journey is a key differentiator. The value lay, Seeley said, in “getting a chain of custody across the supply chain.”

Sentry is sensitive to temperature, humidity, light and sudden movement and also sends back location data. During flights, it continues to monitor packages it’s inside, buffering data to transmit as soon as it’s beyond an airport’s geofence. “It is a good device at the right size with good battery life,” Seeley said.

OnAsset CEO Adam Crossno was awarded a young scientist of the year award by DHL in 2009 for his work in the track and trace arena. He explained his firm’s main business as providing “remote visibility and security on high-value assets in transit.”

He confirmed that the DHL implementation “has been progressed and is out of pilot. We have increased our footprint with DHL beyond pharmaceutical.” He also confirmed C.H. Robinson, a freight forwarding company, as a customer.

Seeley, at GeoStasis, sees the clinical trials marketplace as one that can benefit from such a proactive track and trace system. She noted that if Sentry goes out of temperature tolerance, the sender gets an alert that enables action to be taken, such as sending a new batch of a vaccine in a clinical trial. Time is vital in such trials. Moreover, they’re increasingly taking place in developing countries where “clean bodies” — people who’ve not recently consumed prescription drugs — are to be more plentifully found.

“Many partners are involved in a global supply chain,” she said. “You can have a number of mistakes happen, leading to temperature excursions.”

The sender also knows if the package is held up in customs. And if anything does go wrong, “because it has GPRS tracking, you know where it has gone wrong and when. If the product wanders, you can find it. You’d never want all the data. It’s about exception management.”

The data from the device can be integrated into other systems, including enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications, using OnAsset’s VisionPlatform portal.

The VisionPlatform “goes beyond just reporting of location,” Crossno said.” One example he gave was of a holiday weekend where a company might have “$20 million worth of product in warehouses or trucks.” The system generates heat maps that enable clients to visualise where their assets are and to change notification procedures according to increased risk of security breach. “We can blend in crime feeds that flag where there have been cargo or auto thefts in a 50-mile radius,” he said.

Crossno added that some clients gain “additional revenue streams” by factoring OnAsset into premium services; others use the technology as an internal tool to make their supply chains more efficient.

Last December, CRM supplier CDC Software and OnAsset announced an agreement to work together focused, in part, on an expanded data management service. OnAsset will use CDC’s supply chain technology, TradeBeam, to “mash up real-time wireless monitoring and sensor data with data from enterprise systems ... during the movement and transportation of high-value freight,” a press statement said.


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