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Cephalon Moves Ahead With Its RFID E-pedigree Plans

In the latest phase of its RFID deployment, the drugmaker is serializing cardboard shipping containers by means of EPC Gen 2 tags.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 13, 2008International biopharmaceutical company Cephalon plans to enter a new phase in deploying RFID technology in its supply chain by affixing passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags to cardboard shipping containers, and by serializing the Electronic Product Code (EPC) numbers on those tags that leave their third-party distribution center in Tennessee. All shipments leaving the warehouse are slated to be tagged by the third quarter of 2008.

This container-serialization system, incorporating software and integration provided by OATSystems, is the next in a series of steps intended to make Cephalon e-pedigree-enabled, using RFID and item-level serialization, by 2009. Following this latest initiative, says Randy Bradway, Cephalon's VP of commercial operations, the company hopes to begin tagging at least one product at the item level by the end of 2008, and more next year.

Randy Bradway, Cephalon's VP of commercial operations
Although the California State Board of Pharmacy is delaying implementation of its e-pedigree requirement until 2011 (see All Eyes on FDA for Drug E-Pedigree), Cephalon hopes to remain focused on the state's previous 2009 deadline to have itself and its wholesalers implement a system for electronic drug pedigrees.

For the past several years, Cephalon has been testing RFID tags on pallets, cases and saleable units containing placebo products (see Cephalon Announces Item-Level Pilot). In 2005, the company's research team attached EPC Gen 1 tags to units, cases and pallets, moving them around the Tennessee DC to measure the tags' read accuracy. RFID hardware provider ADT Security Services supplied interrogators for the pilot, which it and OATSystems helped develop and execute.

In 2007, Cephalon began tagging cases and pallets of Fentora, a pain medication and a Schedule II narcotic, at its Salt Lake City manufacturing facility, using Alien Technology Squiggle EPC Gen 2 tags (see Cephalon to Tag Cancer Drug at Point of Manufacture). With the latest phase, the drug company intends to tag all shipping containers leaving the Tennessee distribution center en route to wholesalers, capturing reads at the DC as the cardboard boxes are sealed for shipping.

As an order is received and approved, a label is generated that references the specific products that will be packed into a shipping container. In the past, that label has included only a bar code and text. For the new system, it will also contain an Alien Squiggle Gen 2 RFID tag, encoded and printed by a Zebra Technologies printer. Workers will take the label, along with a tote, and pass through the warehouse, picking up items to be shipped. The picked items will be placed in a shipping container. The box will be sealed, and the RFID label will be attached to it. It will then pass by an Impinj Speedway fixed RFID reader with connectivity to the company's back-end system.

When the data is transmitted to Cephalon's SAP AII system, OATSystems' software allows the tag ID number to be linked to that particular product's stock-keeping unit (SKU), as well as such details as expiration dates, lot number and type of product, according to Prasad Putta, OATSystems' cofounder and a member of the company's board of directors. Cephalon is currently shipping about 3,800 containers per month, and anticipates tagging all shipping containers by the third quarter of 2008.

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