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Viagra RFID: One Year Later
It's been more than 14 months since Pfizer went live with its pilot to tag all of Viagra trade items with RFID technology for the U.S. market. This article is a contribution from Pfizer itself discussing findings and data revealed by more than one year of piloting RFID at the item-, case-, and pallet-level.
May 23, 2007—This article was originally published by RFID Update.
May 23, 2007—It's been more than 14 months since Pfizer went live with its pilot to tag all of Viagra trade items with radio frequency identification (RFID) technology for the U.S. market. At the time of this writing, Viagra is one of only two major pharmaceutical products whose entire product line is tagged for the United States. Millions of RFID-enabled units illustrate the feasibility of mass serialization using RFID tags with bar codes. High-frequency (HF) and 2-D bar code technology selections demonstrate good performance superior to ultrahigh frequency (UHF) Gen1 and linear bar code technology selections.
This article analyzes the real, unfiltered performance data of bar code and RFID technologies that have been selected and been in use on Pfizer's production line over the past 14 months.
The Pilot Program
The Viagra RFID pilot was conceived in 2004 and sought to tag every sales unit for the United States by the end of 2005. By December 2005, the first RFID-enabled items were shipping to U.S. customers. The first customer authentications occurred in January 2006. While the original pilot end date has passed, Pfizer will continue to tag Viagra to learn more internally as well as externally. At the 2006 Healthcare Distribution Management Association (HDMA) conference in Arizona, Pfizer announced that it would not cease tagging Viagra at the end of the one-year period in an effort to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the safety and security of the pharmaceutical supply chain. Pfizer has taken very seriously the effects that new technologies have on patient safety. Continuing to tag Viagra beyond the original pilot evaluation period is the right decision for Pfizer's supply-chain partners, regulators, and, most importantly, patients.
Pfizer surprised quite a few professionals in the RFID community when it chose to split frequencies by using UHF tags on cases and pallets and by using HF tags for the item level. We had many reasons for making this choice, including our real-world experience with UHF tags from a variety of vendors for existing deployments. Most influential were the comments and guidance from frequency-unbiased integrators and technologists who had previously worked with both technologies. Their independent experiences indicated that HF was the better choice for the challenges Pfizer and Pfizer's customers had to overcome to enable successful reads of RFID on bottles of Viagra. The results of the Viagra pilot have further added to the success stories of the installed base of HF.
Additional factors were:
The packaging line process can be described as follows:
A regular topic of discussion is "is it really working?" In presenting this data, which is listed in Table I, it is important to stress two points:
* Based on 48 HF reads/case.
** Duplicate-code issues and void label failure rates omitted.
The following points can be made:
The results of the Viagra pilot have further added to the success stories of the installed base of HF. Our data indicate that an HF-frequency approach is desirable for item-level applications combined with a 2D redundant EPC bar code. Unfortunately, it also calls into question the selection of UHF and linear bar codes at the shipping-case level with failure rates being far higher than expected.
Pfizer will move to UHF Gen2 for case and pallet tagging of Viagra in 2007 and expects to see improvements in UHF encode and read performance. A change to the redundant linear EPC bar code on the case and the UHF tag placement are also under consideration in 2007. Our data indicate a one-size-fits-all approach on frequency remains unproven, underdeveloped, and too immature for the pharmaceutical supply chain. As an end user however, Pfizer will continue to evaluate all technologies to determine best fit for purpose as we proceed with future patient safety initiatives.
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