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Traceability for a smarter planet

PASSIVE RFID — “What is it?”

A passive tag does not contain a battery; the power is supplied by the reader. When radio waves from the reader are encountered by a passive tag, the coiled antenna within the tag forms a magnetic field. The tag draws power from it, energizing the circuits in the tag. The tag then sends the information encoded in the tag's memory.

ACTIVE RFID — “Where is it?”

An active RFID tag is equipped with a battery that can be used as a partial or complete source of power for the tag's circuitry and antenna. Some active tags contain replaceable batteries for years of use; others are sealed units.


Condition sensing tags not only have a battery, but also include circuitry that reads and transmits diagnostics back to its sensor system. The tags monitor the environmental conditions, communicate with other items and collaborate to collect data that no single sensor would be able to detect. The information is then fed into back-end systems using the network software.

Pharmaceutical track and trace

In 2010, the global sale of counterfeit drugs will reach $75 billion. That’s a 92% increase in just five years, according to estimates from the Center for Medicines in the Public Interest. Today, many governments require supply chain participants to maintain chain-of-custody records that prove the origin and authenticity of each product.

Item-level serialization and track and trace capabilities enable better supply chain visibility which can raise the bar for counterfeiters and improve business performance. The IBM Solution for Pharmaceutical Track & Trace makes possible anti-counterfeiting regulatory compliance, diversion detection, automated chargeback resolution, safety stock reductions and accurate returns processing.

Protecting patients with track and trace. Watch the video.
In 2009, the number of pharmaceutical counterfeit incidents was up 50% from the year before, with a particular increase among patients in Africa. Source: Pharmaceutical Security Institute

Food safety and traceability

A recent IBM survey of 1,000 consumers in the 10 largest cities nationwide shows they are increasingly wary of the safety of food purchased at grocery stores, and their confidence in―and trust of―food retailers, manufacturers and grocers is declining.

In Norway, Matiq and IBM developed a first-of-a-kind service to track and trace food products as they move through the food supply chain. The solution’s realtime visibility into the food supply chain from “farm to fork” enables food suppliers to pinpoint potentially unsafe products at the batch level and remove them “surgically” from the shelves, thus avoiding the need for costly and wasteful wholesale food recalls.

And in Thailand, chicken, seafood, fruit and vegetables are tagged with the farm of origin, date of harvest, temperature during shipping and more. This will enable the country to help ensure the freshness of food exported from Thailand upon its arrival in global markets and in turn, create a safer food supply chain for consumers.

49% of respondents would be less likely to purchase a food product again of it was recalled due to contamination. Source: IBM study on food safety

Location awareness and safety

In high risk environments, such as refineries and manufacturing plants, or high security locations, such as aerospace and defense operations, the location and safety of each individual is critical.

The IBM RFID solution for asset tracking — location awareness and safety uses an electronic tag embedded in customized identification badges. A network of receivers throughout the site picks up the unique signal transmitted by each tag and the solution calculates the exact location of the tag at that moment. In the event of a disaster, safety personnel can quickly see who is in the affected area, who evacuated, who may still be there and what their last known location was.

In addition, RFID enables tracking of high-value assets on a near real-time basis—allowing missing items to be found quickly. The technology allows accurate recording of how often and where a particular asset is being used to efficiently analyze and manage capital and operating expenditures—helping streamline routine maintenance and repair activities.