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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
Products first arrive at the site in bags, packed in boxes shipped on pallets. Staff members use the boxes' existing bar-code information to receive the products and store information about them in the SIMS solution. Each employee carries a high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz badge complying with the ISO 15693 standard, the unique ID number of which is linked to that person's identity in the SIMS software.

A logistician (a member of the drugmaker's logistics team) first reads his or her own badge, using a Psion handheld computer with a built-in RFID reader, then inputs details regarding the product being received—either manually, or by scanning a bar code. The data is sent—via a Wi-Fi connection or, when plugged into a PC, a USB cable—to the SIMS software, which receives and interprets the data and forwards that information to the drugmaker's inventory-management system. The SIMS software also sends instructions to the PDA, indicating where each item should be stored (there are multiple chambers designed for the storage of different products at specific temperatures).

Upon arriving at the dictated storage chamber, the logistician first presents his or her badge to an RFID reader, thereby storing a record of who moved the product into storage, then scans a bar code attached near the appropriate chamber's entrance, as well as the bar code on the product box or pallet, using the handheld device. That data is then transmitted to the SIMS solution, which stores that action and also issues instructions to the operator indicating where within the chamber the items should be housed.

Several weeks later, once testing is conducted, the SIMS software queries the company's laboratory information management system (LIMS), then sends picking instructions to operators on their PDAs. Those operators remove the appropriate bags from their boxes and place them in a plastic tote, which can hold up to 80 bags at a time. A Toshiba Tec printer situated on a mobile cart prints HF tags to be adhered to each bag as staff members scan the bar code on the box in which that bag arrived. The SIMS software then links the label's unique ID with data about the product to which it is attached, such as the item's name and quantity, when it was received and where it was stored.

Upon taking the loaded plastic tote to the laboratory, the logistician must, before entering, first go to a tunnel reader, have his or her own RFID badge read, and then place the plastic box inside the tunnel (which was developed by RFIDea, with a built-in Tagsys RFID reader and antenna), in order to have all of the RFID labels interrogated. At that time, if the SIMS software determines that an item is missing or incorrect, an alert is displayed on a monitor mounted above the reader. This process eliminates the need for a validation operator to review another operator's picking work before approving the items for use within the lab.

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