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Item-level RFID tagging 100% reliable, say firms

By Emilie Reymond , 20-Nov-2006

Packaging maker Owens-Illinois (O-I) and RFID provider Impinj say they have demonstrated 100 per cent reliability of radiofrequency identification (RFID) for pharmaceuticals in an item-level live demonstration.

The companies claim that a new "embedded tag" method has helped them achieve this.

During the RFID Health Care Industry Adoption Summit in Washington D.C. last week, the two companies conducted two pharmaceutical manufacturing and fill-line demonstrations, using a near-field ultrahigh frequency (UHF) Gen 2 RFID solution that included Impinj's readers and chips and O-I's item-level embedded RFID tags.

The demo used UHF tags instead of high-frequency (HF) ones like some other companies are using for item-level tracking, as UHF is believed to work across all levels of packaging, and therefore could potentially allow drugmakers to standardise the process across one frequency, allowing the same tag to be used throughout the supply chain to track pharmaceuticals.

In the first demonstration, tagged bottles - for each of the four typical pharmaceutical dosage forms: solids, gelcaps, powders, and liquids - encoded with an electronic product code (EPC) moved around on a conveyor and passed by a guardrail-mounted RFID reader. The reader encoded the embedded tags then reread them to check the encoded data.

Results show read rates of approximately 600 tags per minute, twice the performance of current maximum fill-line speed rates.

O-I ran a second demonstration, which focused on reading item-level tags packaged within cases.

They ran cases containing 48 individually tagged bottles and a case-level tag through an RFID reader.

"With the second scenario, we put a twist by adding a tag to the cases," Vince Moretti, Vice President of RFID at Impinj told InPharmaTechnologist.com.

"That is the main valued of UHF, it can be used for both item- and case-level, without the need of leaving a space between the items, which is the case when using HF."

In the second demonstration, the system developed by Impinj and O-I also read 600 tags per minute.

In addition, in both scenarios, O-I achieved 100 per cent read rates, a success that the company partly attributes to the use of embedded tags.

Indeed, the company has developed a brand new method of including RFID inlays into pharmaceutical packaging, in the base of the bottle, a process executed during the moulding.

"There are many advantages to using tags embedded in the pharmaceuticals packaging," said Brian Chisholm, New Product Development Engineer at Owens-Illinois.

"The consistent orientation of the tag gives an optimisation of reading and avoids null reads, which can happen when two inlays are touching each other."

Chisholm added that the new embedded tags are very difficult to counterfeit, as they cannot be removed from the packaging,

Currently used methods involve the RFID inlay to be affixed to the bottle as a separate label, which can lead to up to six per cent of inefficiency and lead to escalating costs, according to Chisholm.

O-I pharma clients will now be able to purchase RFID item-level tagging as a feature of the packaging, he said.

Moving forward, O-I has not released pricing for the new solution, as there has not yet been an official assessment by any of its clients.

"Our objective now is to find an evaluation partner to rise our production capability so we can value the actual cost of the technology and provide accurate prices to our customers," said Chisholm.

He added that there were several interested customers already and that the scale up of packaging with the new technology embedded would happen in the first quarter of next year.

Moretti from Impinj was as optimistic and said that pharma companies would soon take advantage of the good performance of item-level RFID tagging even if infrastructural costs involved are higher than with currently used tracking systems.

"UHF saw a slow start because there was not Gen 2 yet and it was not adapted to liquids and metals. However, now it is combined with near-field and showed a really good performance, Pharma will take a second look," said Moretti.

"We will see a turnaround in the near future from pharma companies".

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