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Impinj Demos New Approach for Pharma RFID Tagging

Impinj demonstrated a new tag commissioning station that pharmaceutical manufacturers can use to simultaneously encode EPC numbers on dozens of individual products packed in a case. The system lets encoding be done away from a high-speed production line and is marketed as a solution for meeting serialization requirements.
Nov 15, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

November 15, 2007—One of the challenges pharmaceutical makers face in implementing RFID is how to accurately encode products without backing up high-speed production lines. At this week's RFID/Track & Trace Summit, RFID chip and reader manufacturer Impinj proposed a new approach: encoding multiple products simultaneously after they are packaged into a case. At the event, which was organized by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), Impinj demonstrated a prototype solution that uniquely encoded serial numbers in RFID tags on individual packages of medicine that had been packed into a case.

"Typically the way serialization is implemented now is pharmaceutical companies introduce 2D bar code labeling or RFID tag encoding to the high-speed portion of their lines. It's not easy to do when 300 bottles per minute are flying by," Impinj vice president Vince Moretti told RFID Update. This traditional method is called inline encoding. "The new approach is using RFID as it was meant to be used -- with no line of site required for simultaneous processing."

The central idea is to avoid encoding tags on individual pharmaceutical items as they are cruising down a conveyor belt at high speeds, and instead encode a batch of tagged items in quantity once they have been aggregated into a case.

Impinj demonstrated its new patent-pending RFID commissioning station on pills in foil blister packaging and on bottles of liquid medicine.

"We've tested the most difficult items and it's not any less reliable than anything that's been deployed," said Moretti. "We employ all the same safeguards and protocols that we use for inline encoding."

The station can receive cases of items to be encoded by conveyor belt, and can automatically adjust the belt speed based on the time required to encode the items, which varies based on volume and the composition of the products and packaging.

"The beauty of that is you don't have to set up for the slowest or worst-case condition," Moretti said. He estimates a single station could encode 500 to 800 items per minute. The station can be "bolted on" at the end of a production line, or installed at a separate location to support multiple lines. Moretti emphasized that this offers pharmaceutical manufacturers powerful scalability because they can encode the product coming off many lines without having to retrofit each of those lines with traditional inline RFID encoding capabilities.

Impinj expects to have the commissioning station ready for commercial release in the second quarter of 2008. The demo unit featured Impinj Gen2 technology, including its Monza tags and Speedway reader/encoder.

Moretti said the Gen2 protocol is well suited for pharmaceutical ID and pedigree applications because it was designed for high-speed, simultaneous identification.

Impinj is marketing the commissioning station as a convenient option for companies that need to provide serial identification on their drug products to meet tracking requirements that take effect in California in January, 2009 (see RFID Solution Announced for California e-Pedigree Reqs for more background). Other state and federal drug pedigree requirements are in place and in development. TAGSYS also addressed the market need at the NACDS event with a pharmaceutical pilot kit and other new products and services based on 13.56 MHz high frequency (HF) technology (see TAGSYS Announces Pre-Standard HF Gen2 Suite).

As traceability needs grow, organizations throughout the pharmaceutical supply chain are gaining new RFID options. ASD Healthcare and Blue Vector are marketing a hospital-oriented drug monitoring system that uses 433 MHz active tags that interact with sensors to monitor storage temperatures and to record when drugs are removed from their storage cabinets (see New RFID Medical Cabinets Deployed at 50 Hospitals). Earlier this year ODIN technologies identified and benchmarked about 20 such RFID medical cabinet solutions (see RFID Medical Cabinets Evaluated in New Benchmark).
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