Cardinal pioneers first-of-its-kind RFID pilot

By Kirsty Barnes

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Supply chain, Electronic product code, Authentication, Radio-frequency identification

Cardinal Health is about to embark on a first-of-its-kind
radiofrequency identification (RFID) tag pilot that tests the
viability of the new technology across the entire supply chain,
from item throughout to case and pallet level.

Cardinal has been gearing up for the pilot since early January, building the infrastructure required at its distribution centre in Ohio and the firm will be ready to begin testing in June.

Cardinal will use new technology to label an undisclosed generic solid-dose drug product with RFID tags carrying unique data that will be captured and read to verify its authenticity at each step of the supply chain, from the point of product labelling and packaging, through to the various points of distribution and dispensing. This pilot program will be the first in the pharma industry to test RFID technology to this extent down to the unit level in a real-time setting.

In the first stage of the pilot, RFID tags will be placed on the labels of the drug package at the company's Printed Components facility in Moorestown, New Jersey.

Next, the company's facility in Philadelphia will encode the electronic product code (EPC) standard data at the unit, case and pallet levels during the packaging process.

The products will be then shipped to a Cardinal Health distribution centre in Findlay, Ohio, where the data will be read and authenticated as products are handled under normal operating conditions.

In the final stage of the pilot, the tagged product will be sent to a health-care provider to further test read rates and data flow using the same technology as the distribution centre.

The entire pilot, from the item, through to the case and pallet level, will use ultra-high frequency (UHF; 915 MHz) Gen 2 RFID tags - supplied by Alien Technology - instead of high-frequency (HF) like some other companies are using for item-level tracking, Renard Jackson, executive vice president of packaging services for Cardinal Health, told In-PharmaTechnologist.com.

"We are attempting this because if UHF works across all levels of packaging, we will be able to standardise the process across one frequency, allowing the same tag to be used throughout the supply chain to track pharmaceuticals from the pallet right through to the item level."​The company will also use software from IBM along with project management support from VeriSign.

The pilot aims to create commercially viable RFID technology that allows the verification of drugs along each step of the distribution path to add an additional layer of security and lessen the chance of counterfeit drugs entering the supply chain.

Counterfeit drugs is one of the most critical issues facing the pharma industry today. The business of selling fake drugs is a burgeoning global industry, estimated to grow 13 per cent a year to reach $75bn (€58.5bn) in 2010, a 92 per cent increase from 2005 - compared to just 7.5 per cent estimated annual growth for global pharmaceutical commerce.

In addition, Cardinal plans to use the pilot to improve efficiencies in the pharma supply chain, as logistics experts at the firm will analyse the data to identify bottlenecks, read rates and other opportunities for improvement.

At the completion of the pilot, expected to last 1.5 months and finish in September, Cardinal will spend time analysing the findings, looking at the operational data, read rates, production speed and any problems encountered, said Jackson.

"Depending on the results of the pilot, Cardinal may or may not want to take this product into commercialisation."

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