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Cardinal Health Deems RFID Pilot a Success

The drug company has not yet determined, however, how to achieve satisfactory read rates of individual tags on pharmaceutical items packed in cases on pallets.
By Beth Bacheldor
Nov 21, 2006Drug manufacturer and distributor Cardinal Health recently wrapped up its months-long RFID trial, which included the pallet-, case- and item-level tracking of pharmaceuticals. The $74.9-billion-a-year company says the technology's read rates are highly reliable, even at the unit level, and that UHF RFID is a promising technology for protecting and securing pharmaceutical supply chains. There's more work to be done, though, when it comes to achieving an acceptable read rate of individual tags on pharma items packed in cases and assembled into pallets.

Cardinal Health manufactures pharmaceuticals for nine of the world's top 10 drug companies and distributes one-third of all pharmaceutical, medical, lab and surgical products in the United States. The trial—which the company kicked off in late June to understand better how RFID tags are applied, encoded and read at normal production speeds—required about five months of planning (see Cardinal Health Readies Item-Level Pilot).

The trial bolstered the sentiment that EPC Gen 2 UHF tags are robust enough to use in the pallet-, case-, and item-level tracking of drugs, versus having to utilize a combination of UHF and HF tags. In fact, tests yielded an overall successful read rate of more than 99 percent when reading totes—plastic containers filled with bottled drugs to fill specific orders from pharmacies—as they move down a conveyor at a distribution center.

"There were a lot of doubts as to whether the UHF technology could work in very close proximities, such as what is in our packaging lines or production lines," says Julie Kuhn, vice president of operations technologies at Cardinal Health, headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, "and there was speculation as to whether we could use UHF in a tote environment, where you have many different kinds of packages and products—foils, blister packs, bottles, liquids, solids. In both of those scenarios, we felt the technology is very useable."

Cardinal Health shared the findings of its trial at last week's RFID Health-Care Industry Adoption Summit conference in Washington, D.C. There, Kuhn told attendees that the team experienced "many, many days where we had 100 percent read rates at the tote level," adding that the results were "highly encouraging."

Cardinal Health decided to share the details of its trial because company executives believe their experience is relevant to the pharmaceutical industry, and that it can help other firms trying to increase their understanding of RFID. In addition, says Kuhn, "we wanted to share data that says you can make one frequency work."

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