Preparing for RFID Lift-Off
One company’s pilot program tests RFID’s variables.
by Stephanie Steward, Assistant Editor
In an industry that requires continuous improvement for packaging security, RFID proponents seem to be pushing for RFID to replace bar codes as fast as DVDs have replaced VHS tapes.
A technician checks read rates of packages with RFID labels being read as they move along a high-speed conveyor belt at the ADT RFID lab.
And although security service professionals say that RFID is a good thing to pursue, some say there are still many variables in RFID implementation that require thorough testing and forethought before users jump on the RFID bandwagon. Ted McCaffrey, business development manager of RFID solutions at ADT Security Services, a division of Tyco Fire & Security, is one such professional.
McCaffrey is currently performing a user-acceptance test on placebo products in cartons and blister packs as part of a pilot program ADT developed for Cephalon Inc. (Frazer, PA), an international biopharmaceuticals company. The pilot program was designed to provide end-to-end visibility for tracking branded pharmaceuticals throughout the supply chain. Cephalon is currently using bar code technology, but it is making the switch to RFID to track the movement of its products, manage inventories, and protect patient safety as well as product integrity. RFID also helps the company meet the tagging requirements of FDA and major wholesalers, like Wal-Mart, that are pushing the RFID trend.
McCaffrey predicts that RFID and bar codes will coexist for the next four or five years. RFID tag life span, readability rates, and interference from other machines are just a few aspects of RFID that still require much testing. “We test for interference from items like portable phones, wireless handhelds, mainly dc environments,” says McCaffrey. But he notes that when it comes to RFID implementation in hospital environments, “hospitals have yet to get fully involved in the process.”
Whether the tags are on a carton buried inside a pallet of cases or on an item on a conveyor, reliable readability is being tested over and over. “ADT performs more than 340 tests with many different tag locations [at] multiple conveyor speeds up to 600 feet per minute,” says McCaffrey. “Reading the tags at 100% is the goal for Cephalon. As the industry evolves, this should be the goal for all companies in the pharma space.”
ADT is running its tests for Cephalon at its lab facility in Boca Raton, FL, using its Sensormatic RFID printer/applicator, which combines the printing and applying of RFID labels to cases and pallets into one process. Using 915-MHz tags at the pallet, case, and carton level, McCaffrey says they are testing for how to best place the tags and make sure they are facing the right position to get the highest readability rates. He says these kinds of tests help distributors create pallets to get better read rates as well. The Sensormatic has self-diagnostic capabilities and can place labels at high speeds on the tops or sides of the cases. It can also detect defective or nonoperating RFID labels, reject them, and apply a working label in its place.
ADT’s compliance lab is also running conveyor, portal, and dock door tests, as well as tests on a vault where schedule II medications are stored to ensure optimum RFID performance.
According to McCaffrey, Cephalon started talking with ADT about a pilot program in March 2004, only a month after FDA issued its report, “Combating Counterfeit Drugs.” He described Cephalon as a forward-thinking company that approached ADT because ADT has all the hardware necessary to do this kind of RFID testing. “The RFID process is coming. Cephalon wants to be ready,” he said.
McCaffrey says that a successful test—like the one ADT is experiencing in the early stages of this pilot program for Cephalon—is one in which the system concept that is developed matches the system that is created. All components of the system, including the tags, readers, database, and software, must work together. The next step for Cephalon after this program is to implement RFID into its supply chain.