Intelligent Packaging Uses Technology to Track Packages, Doses

May 20, 2020
Hallie Forcinio
Equipment and Processing Report
Volume 13, Issue 6
Page Number: 38–42

RFID, NFC, and barcodes on pharmaceutical containers enhance patient safety and adherence.

With the evolution of interactive “intelligent” technologies such as near-field communication (NFC), radio frequency identification (RFID), and two-dimensional barcodes, patients can interact with pharmaceutical products in unprecedented ways. Such “smart” packaging offers the potential to improve patient adherence, safety, and therapeutic success. 

Tracking drug products

“[Using smart packaging,] wrong applications are prevented, counterfeits can be reliably detected and rejected, processes are automated and secured, and relevant information is available at the point of use,” explains Arne Rehm, product manager RFID/NFC Solutions at Schreiner MediPharm. The technology also supports traceability throughout the processing, packaging, and distribution process as well as implementation of Industry 4.0. 

Rehm reports, “UHF [ultra-high frequency] RFID offers the advantage of being able to track a large number of individual products or packaging units at once. For example, all products can be recorded within a few seconds for inventory monitoring, which is far superior to optical or manual processes in speed and accuracy.” NFC allows large amounts of data to be stored almost invisibly on the product. It works particularly well in situations where graphic space is scarce and is well-suited for labels for small containers with narrow radii. “A key aspect here is certainly the high level of digital counterfeit protection that can be provided at the same time,” says Rehm. 

He notes, “RFID and NFC labels have become more powerful and cheaper in recent years. In addition to the greatly improved reading range of new chip generations in the UHF range, various new functionalities have been integrated, from security to sensor technology.”

A DataMatrix code is the basis for Smart Containers from SCHOTT North America. Laser marking a unique code on the bottom of each vial enables traceability throughout the entire manufacturing process. The unique DataMatrix code is applied during vial manufacturing. After hot forming, advanced laser technologies create the code and inextricably link it to the container. Coded containers may be scanned at various points during the fill/finish process, including after loading, washing, depyrogenation, filling/checkweighing, stoppering, crimping, and labeling, as well as before secondary packaging. “To ensure ease of use, the Smart Container code can be read by conventional camera equipment,” says Diana Löber, global product manager vials at SCHOTT. “Moreover, as the unique identifier is positioned at the bottom of a vial, there is no need to install multiple cameras or to turn the container,” she explains. 

Scanning the code supports implementation of Industry 4.0 and helps pharma manufacturers unlock the power of machine vision and big data analytics by enabling optimal monitoring and traceability of the vial manufacturing and fill/finish processes. “This means that the technology supports and improves reject management and line clearance, reducing the risk of mix-up and optimizing lyophilization processes and container-based targeted recalls,” says Löber. 

Caregivers and patients also benefit. With a unique code on each vial, if a product quality problem arises and a recall is necessary, it is easier to identify which vials need to be recalled and remove them more quickly from the marketplace. “This ensures patient safety and high quality up until the drug is administered,” concludes Löber. 

For labeled containers, particularly vials and syringes with small radius curves, Schreiner MediPharm offers labels equipped with RFID technology, which relies on flexible electronics from PragmatIC instead of rigid silicon chips. “Until now, conventional RFID/NFC solutions have mainly been utilized in high-value use cases,” said Dr. Thomas Schweizer, president of Schreiner MediPharm. “Due to the cooperation with PragmatIC, we are now able to offer attractively priced, smart pharma labels even for high-volume and low-cost medicines,” he reported (1). 

For smart cartons, a partnership between Schreiner MediPharm and Edelmann, a folding carton producer, incorporates digital features for fast, reliable product authentication and product protection. BitSecure copy detection technology prints a small, digital security feature based on a high-resolution, random pattern whose intricate details are not discernible by the naked eye. The pattern can be authenticated quickly using a smartphone or handheld reader and analyzed via related software. A closure seal with an integrated NFC chip and an irreversible void effect combines analog and digital technologies, offering double tamper evidence. Before the seal’s initial opening, the user reads the NFC chip using a smartphone and related app to confirm product authenticity. Opening the package without peeling off the seal causes it to break along the perforation. If the NFC chip is read again, the smartphone will warn the packaging has been opened previously. The chip also may link the user to interactive applications for patient information and assistance (2).

References

1. Schreiner MediPharm, “Schreiner MediPharm and PragmatIC Announce Strategic Partnership for Smart Pharma Labels,” Press Release, Dec. 5, 2019

2. Schreiner MediPharm, “Schreiner MediPharm and Edelmann Group Develop Demo Version of Smart Packaging Solution,” Press Release, March 28, 2019.