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Belgian Drugmaker Uses RFID to Help It Test Its Products' Stability

The company is utilizing a custom solution involving bar codes and radio frequency identification to track which products are at its facility, where they are located and the phases of testing they have undergone.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 05, 2011A global pharmaceutical firm based in Belgium, with help from systems integrator RFIDea, has created a solution that employs RFID and bar codes to track the movements of more than 70,000 bags of products annually as they undergo testing at the company, which has asked to remain unnamed.

The system's development began in 2007, using bar codes and RFID tags, as well as RFIDea's stock inventory management system (SIMS). Workers scanned a bar-coded label on each product as it arrived for research-and-development stability testing from all of the company's manufacturing sites throughout Europe, and also read an RFID label affixed to the plastic bag in which that product was stored, prior to testing.

At present, the expanded SIMS solution utilizes both RFID and bar codes to track not only pharmaceutical products, but also chemicals used at the laboratories. Last year's expansion, says Jérôme Coulon, RFIDea's sales and project manager, enabled the firm to track which chemicals are used during the testing of products at the labs.

The company's analytical resources department is responsible for testing the stability of new products developed at its manufacturing sites. To accomplish this goal, the goods are stored at the site, the aging process is monitored, and any changes made to the product, or to the bags, is then recorded by the laboratory staff. In addition, chemicals are used to perform the stability testing.

Prior to the introduction of RFIDea's SIMS solution, staff members were required to manually track details regarding the step of the testing process that each product had reached, where the product was located within the facility and how long it had remained at any given location. This information is critical to the test's validity, so the data had to be manually gathered on paper in painstaking detail, and then be double-checked in order to ensure that mistakes were never made.

RFIDea's solution was developed to eliminate the need for manual tracking, thereby reducing the risk of errors, while also decreasing the amount of time workers spent writing down details or checking another individual's work. First, in 2007, RFIDea studied the processes by which products were received, stored, tested and finally discarded. The firm then began developing the system during a series of installations, Coulon says, beginning with proof-of-concept testing and a pilot, followed by the permanent deployment of both bar coding and RFID tracking using a PDA, a tunnel reader and wall-mounted fixed interrogators throughout the facility.

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