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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
The products are then stored in small chambers within the lab until required. Each time that an item is removed from storage, tested or returned to storage, a laboratory analyst reads his or her own badge tag, as well as the product tag, and responds to prompts using a graphical user interface on a wall-mounted reader or PDA. A record of every activity pertaining to each product, as well as the time and the identity of the staff member involved in that activity, is stored in the SIMS software and shared with the company's management system.

Finally, when a product is scheduled to be discarded, it is moved to an area containing bins. At that location, another wall-mounted reader interrogates the worker's badge, along with the tag of each product being discarded. All wall-mounted readers were designed and developed by RFIDea, using off-the-shelf HF RFID interrogators.

The company, which uses several vendors for its RFID tags, opted to employ HF tags rather than UHF, Coulon says, since HF tags can be read more effectively in the presence of liquids, while UHF tags' longer read range was deemed unnecessary for this particular application.

Most recently, the drug company has been applying RFID tags to bottles of chemicals used during laboratory testing. By utilizing the tags, employees can track what is being used, along with its expiration date and which worker is using it, by first reading the tag, and then responding to prompts on the wall-mounted or handheld reader.

Altogether, the pharmaceutical company is employing approximately 72,000 RFID tags annually, in addition to more than 30 readers, including handhelds, fixed interrogators and tunnel readers. "This is a system that is continuously improving," Coulon states, as the drug manufacturer and RFIDea determine new ways in which to use the technology. The system allows the firm to easily know where its products are located, how long they have been there and when they were last tested.

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