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RFID Vendors Launch Item-Level RFID Drug-Tracking Systems

One system reads EPC Gen 2 UHF tags on items, while the other reads both HF tags on items and UHF tags on cases.
By Beth Bacheldor
One way the system boosts read-rate accuracy is by determining how powerful a signal interrogators must transmit, , explains Gordon Adams, Vue Technology's senior VP of sales. If an RFID lacks such a capability, the interrogator signal may be too weak to successfully read a tag, or so powerful that it might create duplicate reads or overload the system. "This makes for a more intelligent reader," Adams says.

A team of Vue Technology engineers tested the new UHF solution for several months, affixing every commercially available EPC Gen 2 tag and antenna design on a variety of pharmaceutical products the company purchased at a local drug store, then installing the VuePoints and readers on shelves in "every kind of permutation," Adams says. Vue Technology's complete UHF pharmacy solution will ship at the end of November; pricing is dependent upon the implementation.

Meanwhile, Blue Vector Systems' Smart Tunnel can read HF tags on individual items inside a case or container, as well as any UHF tags affixed to a case—all at once. The tunnel features a Linux-based Edge Manage appliance. About the size of a paperback book, the appliance acts as middleware, filtering out duplicate reads and executing rules governing the business intelligence for the tunnel. For example, if the system reads only 47 HF tags in a case that is supposed to have 48 items, the Edge Manager can direct the conveyor system to kick that case off the belt for review, says John Beans, Blue Vector's VP of marketing.

The Global Manager software allows companies to monitor and manage all the Edge Managers, as well as run reports detailing every tag read. Companies can choose either EPCglobal Gen 1 or Gen 2 UHF tags operating at 800 to 960 MHz, as well as a variety of 13.56 MHz HF tags built to support the ISO/IEC 15693 or ISO/IEC 18000-3 tag standards. "This tunnel gives you a lot of flexibility," Beans says, adding, "We are tag- and reader-agnostic—in the end, we can work with anybody."

Beans says Blue Vector applied many of the lessons it learned while testing smart shelves designed to hold both UHF and HF tagged goods at pharmaceuticals distributor McKesson (see McKesson Starts RFID Pilot for Viagra). "Even before we introduced the Smart Tunnel, we [had] been working through all the intricacies of reading items in a dense situation like a shelf," Beans says. "The shelf presented the same challenges [as the tunnel], and we've worked through the technical issues, the little nuances that you have to learn, like sometimes having to modulate the power up and down to get accurate reads."

Blue Vector's Smart Tunnel is currently available, with pricing dependent upon implementation. Beans expects a mix of pharmaceutical manufacturers, packagers, distributors and retailers to install the system.

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