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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
For Cephalon, with its item-level tracking of Fentora, the problem was that the company was achieving only about an 80 percent read rate as the items were packaged and then passed the two RFID interrogators. Any goods not properly encoded and subsequently read needed to be moved through the conveyor system again, so that they could be encoded and read a second time. These results made the use of RFID inefficient. One challenge that the RFID system faced involved encoding and reading the tags in the presence of the aluminum blister packaging used for this product. This difficulty holds true for many other pharmaceutical products as well

Uysal says his lab and Cephalon's team began discussing testing the system at the USFP RFID Center for Applied Research in spring 2011. In March of last year, the researchers constructed a rectangular conveyor measuring approximately 8 feet by 10 feet, intended to serve as a model of the Cephalon conveyor, on which item-level products revolved repeatedly in a closed loop, thereby enabling researchers to collect an unlimited number of RFID reads from tags repeatedly passing readers, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Ismail Uysal
The researchers first gathered baseline information confirming that they, like Cephalon, were attaining about an 80 percent read rate, using the same tags, readers and reader antennas utilized during Cephalon's Fentora item-level pilot, and in the same configuration. The team then began making adjustments to the interrogators' read zones, as well as trying different antennas and tags, and repositioning those tags and antennas to various locations and angles. Turkish RFID company Borda Technology provided RFID software used by each reader to adjust the settings related to the devices' read zones, such as changing the power output or coding algorithm. The software not only instructed the two readers to adjust their operational parameters at preset intervals, but also collected read data as the parameters changed, thus enabling the researchers to review the results on an Excel spreadsheet.

The research team found that an EPC Gen 2 tag attached to the elongated side of the product carton, facing the reader antenna and parallel to that antenna's orientation, achieved the highest read rate. By adjusting the location and model of antennas and tags, and by setting the reader software to the optimal parameters, the researchers accomplished a 99.5 percent item-level read rate. They then made the same modifications to the RFID system at the Cephalon manufacturing site, and experienced the same high read rate.

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