RFID Moves Forward

Many radio frequency identification projects are moving beyond the pilot stage, supported by new hardware and software tools.
Apr 02, 2007
Volume 31, Issue 4

The pharmaceutical industry continues to embrace radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. Pilot projects are demonstrating proof-of-concept and moving beyond compliance with retailer mandates to identify ways to benefit internally from the product visibility data RFID makes available. Several companies have made the move to full-scale implementation. Maturing hardware and software tools bring higher functionality with less customization.

E-pedigree study

An end-to-end e-pedigree pilot undertaken in 2006 by Cardinal Health, Inc. (Dublin, OH, http://www.cardinal.com/) indicates pallet- and case-level ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tagging works better than item-level tagging at present, but it still needs improvement to achieve read rates above 99% consistently (see "Tagging Tools to Provide E-Pedigree, Pharmaceutical Technology, September 2006). "A great deal of additional work needs to be undertaken by stakeholders across the industry to address significant challenges [related to item-level tagging], including global standards, privacy concerns, and the safe handling of biologics," says Renard Jackson, vice-president and general manager of global packaging services for Cardinal. "Until those challenges are addressed, direct distribution of medicine continues to be the best near-term approach to maintain the highest levels of security and efficiency in the pharmaceutical supply chain," he states. Jackson concludes, however,"Cardinal Health's test of RFID under real-world conditions has demonstrated that the technology has real promise to provide an added layer of safety."

Hallie Forcinio
The Cardinal study also found that tag encoding and application can occur at line speeds with minimal adjustments to current labeling and packaging lines. On-line encoding yields ranged between 95% and 97% but could approach 100% with some fine-tuning of the process.

Item-level read rates varied from less than 10% to nearly 100%, depending on the product, situation, and read location. In general, primary packages read well when cases were scanned one at a time. Item-level read rates decreased when full pallets were scanned and at read points beyond the unit-to-case aggregation point. Read rates for tagged product in mixed-product totes varied.

At the case level, full-pallet loads often can be read at 100%. Further testing is needed to determine whether process changes and hardware tuning can achieve 100% read rates consistently. It also may be necessary to use bar code technology to complement and serve as a back-up to RFID.

Full-scale implementations

Another pioneer in RFID technology, Purdue Pharma L.P. (Stamford, CT, http://www.purduepharma.com/), is deploying item-level tagging to improve pharmaceutical supply-chain efficiency and security and enable e-pedigree recordkeeping (see "Tagging Tools to Provide E-Pedigree," Pharmaceutical Technology, September 2006). The company is achieving 100% read reliability and exceeding read-rate requirements with UHF electronic product code (EPC) Class 1 Gen 2 technology (RFID tags equipped with "Monza" chips, "Speedway" RFID readers, and near-field antennas from Impinj, Inc., (Seattle, WA, http://www.impinj.com/).

Tracking software certifies, captures, and analyzes the data from the RFID tags ("TIPS" serialized product-tracking solution, SYSTECH International, Cranbury, NJ, http://www.systech-tips.com/). "The ... technology has been selected as an integral part of our packaging-line improvements to help the company establish an e-pedigree process that will significantly improve the delivery of products from the factory to the pharmacy counter," says Aaron Graham, vice-president of corporate security and chief security officer at Purdue Pharma.

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