NEWS: RFID to Authenticate Rx Products

Erik Swain

Pfizer’s pilot program to put RFID on all Viagra trade packages to fight counterfeiting is progressing. At HCPC’s annual symposium, Pfizer’s Dan Malinowski reported that the company is currently developing software that will allow pharmacists to authenticate their shipments. It is also in the midst of recruiting retail pharmacies for the project (the pharmacies would have to buy the software).

Malinowski says that the project “gives us an opportunity to have hands-on experience with RFID and better understand its costs and benefits. It gives us an opportunity to work with our trading partners at the wholesale and pharmacy levels and to leverage the knowledge of RFID specialists. And it is a potential opportunity to accelerate the standards development process. Our project is ahead of the standards-setting bodies.”

Pfizer’s goal is “to learn how to write RFID tags on a packaging line,” he said. “We want to generate, associate, and manage unique electronic product codes (EPCs) for millions of units.”

Five subteams are doing most of the work: manufacturing, packaging technology, IT, logistics, and trade relations. The project charter is very specific to prevent “scope creep,” he said.

The design was on track to be finished by the end of May. Building is scheduled for June and July, testing for August and September, and deployment by the end of 2005.

Packaging at the item level will have a 13.56-MHz tag. “It’s good at short range and is compatible with liquids and metals,” Malinowski said. The tag will be incorporated into the primary bottle label, and it will be removable. The label will be an expanded-content label. For serial number assignment, the tag will be read, the number will be encoded, the encoding will be verified, the number will be locked, and the lock will be confirmed. If the tag is valid, a laser will etch a 2-D bar code and the EPC number onto the label for redundancy. That will be verified, and the bottle rejected if it fails. The pharmacist can type the number into the system if the RFID tag fails to scan.

The case level will have an ultra-high-frequency (915 MHz) tag, same as for the Wal-Mart initiative. Pfizer is trying to make it compatible with 866-MHz software, which is what’s used in Europe. It will have a unique serial number, also 24 digits. The tag will be on a label applied to the top or side of the case. A linear bar code will be printed on it for redundancy. The case will be associated with the items in the software, and the “parent/child” relationship will be verified when the case tag is read. The pallet level also has a 915-MHz tag. It will be associated with the cases.

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