Cargo carriers offer round-the-globe cold-chain tracking

June 9, 2010
Pharmaceutical Commerce, Pharmaceutical Commerce - May/June 2010,

US-based FedEx and Singapore’s APL develop provide near real-time continuous tracking of sensitive shipments

Although national and international regulations for temperature-controlled shipping are tightening, no authority requires minute-by-minute monitoring of a shipment. Nevertheless, cargo carriers are taking the wraps off in-transit services to provide that level of reporting capability to shippers.

In the case of FedEx, a new program called SenseAware is about to be rolled out to the life sciences industry. The program was “soft-announced” last autumn, and in the meantime the company has been piloting it with selected clients (and with shipments originating in the US), according to a spokesperson. SenseAware entails an IT system that not only tracks where a shipment is at a given time, but also reports temperature, light exposure and other package-status elements in near real-time. The company worked with an unnamed device manufacturer to develop a GPS-enabled, Web-connected sensor—including in-flight communications—and then created the IT infrastructure internally. According to a FedEx representative, the intention is to create an open-source platform that any qualified device or sensor manufacturer can plug into; at the same time, the network could be opened to logistics partners of FedEx for an end-to-end communications network. There are numerous tracking systems for logistics available through many providers; at the same time, there are numerous vendors of sensor systems (which usually collect data in-transit, and then are downloaded at the end of a trip). SenseAware appears to be the first logistics system that combines both capabilities.

Meanwhile, APL, the Singapore-based ocean carrier that serves 140 ports worldwide, has just announced SMARTemp, a service that uses the low-orbit Iridium satellite network with a patented communications module to monitor shipping conditions for freighter-based refrigerated containers (reefers) during ocean-crossing transits. The SMARTemp communication module decodes data from a microprocessor controller fixed to the cargo container, which records temperature and humidity levels and transmits this via satellite to APL’s central server. Customers can retrieve real-time data via APL’s HomePort e-commerce portal. If freight reaches a predefined threshold in transit, the system provides e-mail or text alerts to APL’s on-call cargo teams for immediate action.

“The unique SMARTemp features could lead to a significant expansion of the type and volume of sensitive high-value cargoes transported via ocean,” says Eric Eng, VP, APL Global Reefer. “SMARTemp will give shippers greater confidence that ocean freight is an increasingly viable transportation option for cargo which has traditionally moved by air.”