Millipore is launching the first in a line of filtration products for the biopharmaceutical industry with embedded Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology to facilitate record-keeping and data transfer in the manufacturing environment.
The US supplier, which believes it is the first company successfully to integrate RFID technology with filtration products used to manufacture biopharmaceuticals, has signed an exclusive licence with Tack Smart Filter Technology BV of the Netherlands to embed the RFID technology in Millipore's filters and filtration apparatuses for biopharmaceutical applications. Financial details were not disclosed.
Millipore has also formed relationships with Tagsys RFID for the tags and reader components, The Tech Group for injection moulding and fabrication, and with Northern Apex-RFID for RFID integration services and instrument development.
"Using RFID technology to record and convey valuable product and process information allows our customers to more efficiently develop and validate key process steps," commented Roland Heinrich, vice-president of research and development for Millipore's Bioprocess Division.
"In an industry where time to market and compliance are crucial, RFID improves the speed and confidence with which critical data is exchanged for these steps."
Millipore will kick off the initiative by launching a standard cartridge filtration product with embedded RFID technology at the forthcoming Interphex conference in New York on 24-26 April. The long-term plan is to make RFID a regular feature of the company's filtration portfolio, said marketing manager George Adams.
As Adams noted, current applications of RFID technology in the pharmaceutical industry are mostly to do with anti-counterfeiting measures or pedigree labelling at the packaging and labelling stage. Incorporating the technology into the production process is "really about the data" and about conveying it accurately from point to point, he explained, adding that documentation and record-keeping are "a huge issue" for the pharmaceutical sector.
"By using RFID technology in filtration products, Millipore's customers can increase their speed by quickly and reliably retrieving critical information, such as when and how the product was manufactured," the company stated.
"Additionally, when the filters are coupled with sensors, RFID can deliver real-time information about product performance and identify which fluids are present during the manufacturing process."
In their initial evolution, the embedded RFID tags would be carrying pedigree information such as catalogue, lot and serial numbers that was usually included on labelling or paper certificates of quality, Adams said. Using RFID technology meant the information was "always available in the filter", whereas at present it was often lost when the filter was removed from packaging or the bar codes immersed in liquid.
More advanced applications could involve pressure and temperature sensors, with the RFID tags used for more active monitoring, he added.
While there is no regulatory requirement for RFID technology in this setting, it chimes with a general drive towards electronic record-keeping in the industry, Adams believes. RFID is "a technology that appears to have come of age, and we think our customers can benefit," he commented.
Any associated price increases would be modest, Adams stressed. The aim was to enhance the value of filtration technology by adding a new feature to a pre-existing product. "RFID itself is not what we're selling," he remarked.
Nor does Millipore see any safety implications in embedding RFID tags in filters. The tags would be completely encased in plastic and isolated from the fluid path, so they would not interfere in any way with the normal function of the filter, Adams explained.
The frequency used will be 13.56 megahertz (the same as in smart credit cards), which has been shown to work well in wet environments where there is potential for interference from stainless steel.