Pharma RFID Needs More Study
Automatic identification trade association AIM Global (Warrendale, PA) has announced its top five predictions for radio-frequency identification (RFID) trends and innovations in the coming year. The forecasts call for expanded integration of RFID into mobile and other electronic devices for increased services; a convergence of RFID with other wireless technologies; enhanced homeland security initiatives; increased monitoring within the first 100 feet and last 100 feet of shipments; and more innovative and practical RFID applications in familiar settings.
“Innovative RFID deployments are being seen today in the sports, healthcare, toy manufacturing, and food processing sectors to guarantee product integrity and safety,” the report said. Apart from this application, the list contains few direct mentions of pharmaceutical and medical supply chains or packaging applications.
RFID technology observers have predicted likewise. “We think RFID has major benefits in the pharma industry, but as of now, its penetration is far below expectations of a few years ago,” says Raghu Das, CEO of smart-packaging consulting company IDTechEx (Cambridge, UK). He cites affordability, lack of infrastructure, and the need for 100% read rate as “major hurdles” that RFID still has to overcome.
The anticipated Gen2 high-frequency (HF) standard ratification, for example, has been postponed by electronic product code standards organization EPCglobal. For now, ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) antennae remain a viable choice. Neither frequency, however, has emerged as the leading technology.
“It is likely that HF will [surpass] once EPCglobal finalizes HF Gen2,” says Bert Moore, director of automatic identification center consultant company IDAT (Pittsburgh). “Hopefully, readers will advance to a point where they can read UHF and HF.”
Frequency concerns also could impact pharmaceutical packaging because UHF’s effect on biologicals remains uncertain and additional research is needed. Moore says manufacturers will take caution going forward.
He believes that RFID could advance in several directions, but doesn’t envision great changes to packaging applications. “My guess is that the next big thing will be completely unexpected. We’ve seen that historically—we are surprised by every next big thing in technology,” Moore says.