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USF Polytechnic Researchers Helped Cephalon Improve Item-Level RFID Performance

By setting up and operating a replica of the conveyor system used at the drugmaker's Salt Lake City plant, the lab's research team was able to raise read-write accuracy to more than 99 percent.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 02, 2012Following more than five months of research conducted last year using a closed-loop conveyor at their laboratory, researchers at the University of South Florida Polytechnic were able to boost item-level RFID tag read-write accuracy from approximately 80 percent to 99.5 percent during a pilot of the technology being carried out by Cephalon Pharmaceuticals. At the lab, the research team was able to create a more effective RFID system by adjusting the settings within the reader software, repositioning the reader antennas and testing the effectiveness of various makes and models of tags and reader antennas.

After deploying the solution at the manufacturing plant operated by Cephalon (which has since been purchased by Teva Pharmaceuticals), the researchers determined that laboratory-testing an RFID solution, prior to its installation in a real-world setting, can increase that system's effectiveness, according to Ismail Uysal, an assistant professor at USF Polytechnic and the director of the school's RFID Center for Applied Research.

In their lab, the USF Polytechnic researchers erected a replica of Cephalon's conveyor system, enabling them to troubleshoot the RFID implementation in use at the drugmaker's Fentora plant.

Before the USF Polytechnic researchers began working with the pharmaceutical company, Cephalon had already begun piloting EPC Gen 2 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags to be encoded, encrypted and then read as the firm packaged one of its pharmaceutical products, Fentora (a painkiller for cancer patients). Fentora was selected for the pilot due to its high price tag, which makes it a target for counterfeiting. With an RFID tag embedded in each container's packaging, retailers or health-care facilities could verify a product's authenticity before a patient consumed it. For the Fentora RFID project, the packaging provider embedded a tag in the interior of each product's carton, and RFID readers and antennas were mounted along the Cephalon assembly conveyor belt, in order to first encode and encrypt the tags as the goods were packaged in the item-level cartons, and to then provide a verification read of the tag before the products were packed into boxes for shipment to customers. In 2007, Cephalon had begun tagging cases and pallets of Fentora at its Salt Lake City manufacturing facility (see Cephalon Moves Ahead with its E-pedigree Plans).

Many pharmaceutical manufacturers are either piloting or installing RFID systems in preparation for the electronic pedigree (e-pedigree) requirements expected to be enacted in the State of California in 2015. An e-pedigree is an electronic record that documents the movement of every pharmaceutical item throughout the supply chain, in order to reduce the incidence of drug theft or counterfeiting. RFID technology offers an automated method for collecting that data.

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