At a European scale, the food industry employs 4.4 million people, generates almost one trillion euro turnover annually and serves around 500 million consumers daily. In Ireland, the agri-food and fisheries sector accounts for 60% of indigenous exports, employing in the region of 135,000 people and a gross annual output approaching €22 billion. This is a sector that has been earmarked as being at the forefront of economic recovery at both Irish and European level. This is set against a backdrop where it is estimated that 30–50% (up to 2 billion tonnes globally per annum) of all food produced never reaches its intended destination, i.e. the consumer. In this context, attention must be given to better manage the overall industry to increasing its competitiveness at harvesting/processing storage and transportation stages. Recent food scares call into question the security and management of the macro European food supply chain and on some occasions, even highlighted shortcomings in individual Member States’ traceability chains. [login type="readmore"] There is a need to establish an end-to-end production and supply chain integrity monitoring system that relays a constant flow of real time, product-critical information, thus providing the basis of responsive management systems. The key to these systems is their ability to respond to consumer demand, market requirements and stakeholder needs. QUALITY AND INTERGRITY The focus is on real-time product quality and integrity, thus empowering all stakeholders with decision support functionality. This will lead to a fully flexible, more adaptable and responsive supply chain, improving manufacturing and logistics management. Such systems will lead to the formation of smart, sustainable and cost-competitive global supply chains. To achieve this, a key strategic network alliance between the Smart Sensing Unit (SSU), University College Dublin and the RFID (radio-frequency identification) Laboratory of Applied Research at the University of South Florida offer a unique convergence of skills and knowledge to develop these truly innovative systems. The aim of the research alliance is to target the agri-food sector via a merging of cloud-based ICT and networked smart-sensing systems, which it is envisaged will cover both the primary production and secondary processing and distribution of agri-food globally. Prof Shane Ward, who heads up the SSU at UCD and Prof Ismail Uysal, Director of the RFID Lab of Applied Research, have long questioned why agriculture has not positioned itself with integrated ICT developments and solutions. They both feel it is a question of timing and, given recent technological advancements, now more than ever is the perfect time. “What we need is a system whereby the consumer can have direct access to traceability information about their potential purchase and we intend to make this information available via smartphone apps,” said Prof Uysal. "We firmly believe that the consumer should have the ability to make informed decisions at time of purchase and they no longer should rely solely on the power of a brand or what they read on the package as this has unfortunately all too often let us down." “Our aim is to bring the agri-food sector into the world of smart technology," added Prof Uysal. "This will bridge an important link between the consumer and the food they eat, as consumers are now beginning to question what they read on labelling.” PRODUCTION AND PROCESSING This would entail, inter alia, the use of miniature, low power use sensors to accompany the product during primary production and secondary processing and distribution. It is envisaged that these sensors will objectively address key quality attributes across the supply network. These sensors will be RFID based, specifically designed to accompany the product during critical, high-risk stages and are designed to monitor an array of critical environmental attributes such as temperature, light, gases, relative humidity and vibrations. Each of these sensors will be networked (via radio satellite communication) to a cloud-based management system and will provide an essential source of real-time knowledge, underpinning quality and safety attributes of the product. This will lead to the establishment of a 'chain of custody', which will prove instrumental as the first line of defence in the battle against adulterated/counterfeit product. It will provide a valuable source of product-specific information at production, storage and distribution. It will also form the architecture of an early warning system. DATA IS KEY The key to the development and success of these systems is data. The problem, however, is that this information is currently not treated as the asset that it is. Nowadays, most companies view the collection and storage of these data as a slow and intensive process, when in fact they should view it as a rich source of information on which to help develop sustainable organisational differentiation. The researcher do not intend to create these data; they merely want to develop methods of gathering and converting them to useful information. To do this will require a merging of skills from both the agri-food and ICT sectors to remotely gather, store, wirelessly transmit and convert to meaningful knowledge via data mining processes. This level of integrated functionality will lead to a fully flexible, more adaptable and responsive supply chain, which will have the ability to respond in times of exception and provide advanced knowledge-based solutions towards improving primary production, secondary processing and distribution. These data are all too often not exchangeable, as they are collected using a variety of methods such as computer databases, hand-written notes and word of mouth. The major issue is that this information remains stored in different locations in different formats and very often in different languages and cannot create a true 'picture in time' of our product. The cloud-based platform will address these issues of dysfunctional and fragmented systems and replace them with a user-orientated sensing system delivering end-to-end production, supply chain integrity monitoring and product verification across agri-food networks. This system must also be accessible at both B to B and B to C levels. This is key to both the economic and social development of the knowledge based agri-food sectors. UCD SMART SYSTEMS UNIT The SSU is based within the UCD School of Biosystems Engineering and specialises in the application of 'smart farming' systems to the agri-food and bioresource sectors. Smart farming encompasses the use of the latest technologies and systems associated with realising the potential of the 'Internet of Things', coupled with the widespread adoption of smartphones and the suite of capabilities delivered by them. The SSU has a portfolio of research programmes addressing the use of sensors, data management and communication systems to optimise the performance and sustainability of agri-food and biomass-to-energy systems. Its portfolio is broad, including, inter alia, animal biometrics (face and other feature recognition) for animal identification, RFID and data analyses/communication for product chain traceability, hyper-spectral imaging for biological material characterisation, GIS and satellite-based tracking technologies, and smartphone applications for delivery of real-time information to end-users. Key SSU staff include Prof Shane Ward, Dr Kevin Mc Donnell, Dr Gerard Corkery and Dr Liam Brennan. APPLIED RESEARCH The USF RFID Lab for Applied Research is situated along the I-4 corridor which connects key cities and world-class universities of the Central Florida High Tech Corridor. Key lab personnel, including Prof Uysal and Dr Ultan Mc Carthy, focus around applications of RFID and networked sensor technologies in both food and pharmaceutical supply chains forming the development of remote environmental monitoring and diagnostics systems, to monitor the integrity of perishable assets during key stages of pre-/post-harvest production and transport. Other specialisations include asset management and visibility, which have been developed and customised in partnership with both automotive and aviation industry partners. This centre has also developed the world’s first completely automated RFID test system for unit and case level serialisation for pharmaceuticals. Other partners involve various government agencies such as the Department of Defence and United States Department of Agriculture, as well as the industry partners from food, pharmaceutical and transportation sectors. At the RFID Lab for Applied Research, staff pride themselves on being able to deliver customised supply chain and serialisation solutions to individual requirements across many sectors. Shane Ward is Professor of University College Dublin, and leads the Smart Systems Unit (SSU) specialising in the application of RFID based smart systems using state of the art sensing technologies, data capture and storage via cloud based decision supported infrastructure. Work to date includes: RFID technology in food chain traceability; CyberBar©: Satellite remote sensing RFID based secure poultry chain traceability and for agri-food and bio-energy applications.