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Impinj Demos Mass Serialization of RFID Tags for Pharma

The company says its Commissioning Station can encode dozens of UHF EPC Gen 2 tags after they've been affixed to items and packed into cases.
By Beth Bacheldor
Nov 21, 2007RFID technology provider Impinj has developed a system that it says can encode numerous ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) EPC Gen 2 tags after they've been affixed to items and packed into cases. The system is designed to help pharmaceutical and other companies that need to tag individual items.

If companies want to encode tags in labels individually as they are automatically affixed to prescription bottles, blister packs and other product packages on lines during the packaging process, they must retrofit the RFID-encoding system into existing processes. Such a system, however, can slow line speeds considerably. Impinj's system, on the other hand, encodes the tags of products after they've been labeled and aggregated into bundles or cases. The product, which the company has not yet officially named but refers to as a Commissioning Station, can be set up on a conveyor belt at the end of a single packaging line, or at the end of multiple packaging lines converging at the station.

"This product is the outcome of work we've done with some pharmaceutical companies that were implementing RFID traditionally in-line," says Impinj VP Vince Moretti. "They were getting the tags [encoded] but were seeing how difficult it is to do it that way, how long it takes and how invasive it is to their packaging lines."

Some pharmaceutical companies, Moretti says, are currently implementing RFID with two-dimensional serialized bar codes. "When they do that, they are driven to an in-line solution," he explains. "Two-D can be encoded only in-line, and RFID must also be encoded in-line to assure that the bar-code and RFID serial numbers match. Pharma companies did not know that end-of-line encoding could be done reliably. There were the early myths about problems operating with metal [blister packs] and liquids. Near-field UHF addressed these issues."

The Commissioning Station is designed to work specifically with RFID tags and labels made with Impinj's Monza EPC Gen 2 chip, and will consist of two Impinj near-field RFID antennas and an Impinj Speedway RFID interrogator running specialized software designed to eliminate network latencies that could slow encoding functions.

"On a packaging line, there are many devices [cameras, printers, RFID readers and computers] that are connected via a private network," Moretti says. "When labels and bottles are moving at hundreds of items per minute, there is only tens of milliseconds of time to complete operations. If the network is busy transferring data from one device, or the computer is busy decoding a poor quality 2-D code, another device may not get serviced in a timely manner and the tag will be gone. We have put software on the reader to minimize the low-level network traffic to accomplish RFID operations such as read, write and lock. The reader CPU can also work independently from the computer on low-level tag interactions. This virtually eliminates the possibility of missing tags."

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