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Purdue Pharma Ramps Up RFID Pilot with Gen2

Purdue today announced *increased development* to its two-year old RFID pilot for tagging the widely-counterfeited painkiller OxyContin. Vendors involved in the pilot include Gen2 equipment manufacturer Impinj, packaging performance management solutions provider SYSTECH International, and value-added systems integrator ADT.
Feb 12, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 12, 2007—Purdue Pharma today announced a new phase in its two-year-old RFID pilot to tag the widely-counterfeited painkiller OxyC*ntin. Vendors involved in the pilot include Gen2 equipment manufacturer Impinj, value-added systems integrator ADT, and packaging performance management solutions provider SYSTECH International.

The pilot development has three components to it, according to what Mike Celentano, Purdue's associate director of supply chain systems, told RFID Update. First, Purdue will upgrade the RFID infrastructure from Gen1 to Gen2. Second, the company will expand the capacity of tagging from certain, limited batches to two entire packaging lines that run four different bottle types of OxyC*ntin. Lastly, tags will now be added at the case-level, extending what had previously been only item-level tagging.

Impinj is the primary hardware supplier for the pilot, providing its Gen2 Monza chips, Speedway readers, and customized near-field UHF reader antennas. ADT managed the installation of the hardware, including pre-deployment activities like site surveying. ADT will continue to support the deployment with on-site support. SYSTECH will certify the packaging line for product readiness under the company's proprietary testing methodologies.

Purdue first initiated the RFID pilot in late 2004, when it began shipping tagged product to Wal-Mart. In early 2005 it started working with giant pharmaceutical wholesaler H. D. Smith. The company is now working with two additional (but unnamed) wholesalers. Its long-term goal is to have an RFID infrastructure that supports electronic pedigrees.

"We have had a pretty good and successful pilot to date," said Celentano. There is still considerable room for improvement, however. One of the primary aspects of the new enhancements that the company will be watching closely is the performance of Gen2. "We want to get to the point where RFID is a secondary part of our implemention, and we haven't been there yet with Gen1," said Harry Ramsey, Purdue's senior packaging development engineer, explaining that Gen1's less-than-robust performance required regular maintenance. Gen2, by contrast, is very promising. "We've already seen some huge improvements in performance," said Ramsey. How well Gen2 equipment ultimately performs in the pilot will largely determine how the company moves forward with RFID adoption generally.

That means that the pressure is on for the vendors involved. Impinj, for its part, is confident that its products will be up to snuff. The company reports that advance tests yielded 100% tag read reliability. "In choosing equipment," Impinj CEO William Colleran told RFID Update, "the key thing that Purdue evaluated was the robustness of the system and the read reliability. We were able to demonstrate that our system works very robustly and proves to be cost effective. The combination of the cost, the performance, and relying on Gen2 -- which is the future of RFID -- all weighed in to convince Purdue that Impinj was the right way to go."

Also notable about the pilot is the use of near-field UHF, the flavor of RFID advocated by many of the leading supply chain RFID providers like Impinj, Alien, and Symbol (now Motorola). (These and other vendors released a white paper last year, arguing their case for the adoption of near-field UHF in the pharmaceutical supply chain. See RFID Vendors Unite Behind Item-Level UHF for more.)

"Near-field UHF is getting a lot of traction and momentum within the pharma industry," said Impinj's Colleran. "This is starting to become a trend, and over a relatively short period of time, it will become the way to go within e-pedigree and pharma." He continued that news like Purdue's helps validate near-field UHF to other manufacturers that might still be skeptical about near-field UHF's feasibility as a preferable alternative to traditonal HF. He also noted that the rate of near-field UHF adoption is increasing. "You can probably count the number of pharma near-field UHF deployments on one hand. But in the next several weeks, you'll probably have to go onto two hands."

As an end-user, "Purdue does not have a dog in the fight," said Ramsey. "We're agnostic as far as frequency." However, as long as a key customer -- Wal-Mart -- maintains its pro-UHF stance, and assuming the technology performs suitably, it does not seem likely Purdue would quit near-field UHF in favor of HF.

Ultimately, the company is simply interested in what works best. Purdue has been a proactive adopter of RFID, and, despite "some frustration" with the technology, it hasn't backed off. "Certainly we see the potential for RFID," said Ramsey, "We just haven't seen it come to fruition yet."

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