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Cardinal Health Readies Item-Level Pilot

The drug manufacturer, packager and distributor will test an RFID system that could help verify the authenticity of products moving through the supply chain.
By Beth Bacheldor
May 31, 2006After about five months of planning, developing software and installing hardware, Cardinal Health is ready to flip the switch on its RFID pilot. Starting in late June, the $74.9-billion-a-year company will begin testing item-level RFID tagging to help improve the safety of medicine and other health-care products as they move through the supply chain.

Headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, Cardinal Health manufactures pharmaceuticals for nine out 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 company will use the pilot to collect data that could be utilized to populate drug pedigrees—documents authenticating a drug's source—and to better understand the implications of RFID on the company's business processes.

Renard Jackson
"We want to find out whether or not we are going to be able to operate at production speeds, what processes will change and what the RFID data reflects," says Renard Jackson, executive vice president of packaging services for Cardinal Health. "We're also going to try and parlay it into learning what other [return-on-investment] opportunities exist with this technology—whether or not things can be done with our inventory, returned goods or recalls."

Cardinal Health will use Alien Technology UHF 915 MHz Gen 2 tags affixed to individual packages of brand-name and generic prescription drug products. The RFID tags will be embedded into printed labels at Cardinal Health's Printed Components facility in Moorestown, N.J. The RFID labels will then be transferred to the firm's Philadelphia packaging plant, where they will be automatically applied to the individual product items and encoded with unique serial numbers. Cardinal Health has installed RFID interrogator antennas on packaging lines and RFID portals at dock doors at both the Philadelphia plant and a distribution center in Findlay, Ohio.

The RFID system will read tags and gather information in real time as each item travels through the production and distribution facilities to pharmacies, hospitals and other customers. The information will help verify the authenticity of the drugs by recording where the packages are at each step of the distribution process. Cardinal Health will analyze the data to help determine any bottlenecks that might be created in the supply chain during the encoding of the RFID tags, the moving of products from cases to smaller totes in distribution facilities, and other steps in the supply chain.

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