Avery Dennison, Kit Check Team Up on RFID Technology for Big Pharma

The partnership is aimed at helping pharmaceutical companies easily create a system to deploy RFID tags that are built into their medication labels, thereby enabling the tracking of each product from the point of manufacture until after it arrives at a hospital.
Published: April 2, 2019

Drug makers have begun planning or implementing RFID tagging solutions to enable the tracking of their products from manufacture to hospital use. To address their need for seamless, global solutions, Kit Check and Avery Dennison have teamed up to provide a solution aimed at making that process easier. Avery Dennison is selling passive UHF RFID tags designed and developed with Kit Check to operate effectively when applied directly to a vial or syringe. The two companies will provide drug manufacturers with turnkey solutions that include assistance for label conversion, infrastructure deployment and integration with Kit Check’s software platform.

The solution was designed to help drug manufacturers and contract manufacturing organizations meet the needs of hospital customers that request that tags be attached at the point of manufacture. Drug companies must meet the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) mandate dictated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means the RFID labelling must meet CGMP requirements. The solution from Kit Check and Avery Dennison is intended to ensure those requirements are met.

Kit Check’s Kevin MacDonald

Most drug compounders are already using RFID, and large manufacturers are now potentially ready to follow suit. In some cases, their customers—hospitals—are using the Kit Check system in-house to track medications and expiration dates, and have asked for the medicines to be tagged at the source.

Kit Check has been working with Avery Dennison for several years, says Kevin MacDonald, Kit Check’s co-founder and CEO. “One of the challenges in pharma is we’re dealing with tons of liquids and very high density,” MacDonald states. The firm had found that there were no other tags on the market that could operate within such environments. Together, the technology companies have developed a tag that operates well when incorporated into the label of a liquid medication, both in a factory and in a hospital kit, using Kit Check’s RFID-enabled Automated Medication Tray Management system.

Until now, Avery Dennison has simply worked with Kit Check to design tags for particular use cases, according to DJ Lee, the director of Avery Dennison’s global RFID channel. “Our main support for them has been designing the product,” he says. “The quality design of the product has to work in a lot of different environments.” Flexibility was key, so that the tag could be read whether at the factory or in a hospital, on any size medication. “We had to go through a lot of iterative work with Kit Check and their customers,” Lee recalls, in order to create the tag now in use.

Although the partnership could provide solutions for drug companies using any UHF RFID tag, the Avery Dennison inlay designed with Kit Check has been at the center of this innovation. Traditionally, drug companies have relied on tag designs in the form of a flag, which is separated from the liquid container. However, MacDonald says, incorporating the tag into the label allows for an easier manufacturing process. “We’ve been working with them on a tag embedded in the label,” he adds, “and that requires a different kind of inlay design.”

Vials range in size from 1 to 50 milliliters. On an assembly line, they might need to be read at a rate of 500 vials per minute, and companies cannot afford to slow down production due to failed tag reads. “If I end up rejecting a tag because it doesn’t read on the line,” MacDonald states, “I could slow down or stop the line.” Anything that introduces risk, he says, constitutes a major problem.

Avery Dennison’s DJ Lee

However, in a hospital setting, there are very different challenges. Here, tags are packed tightly, or are stacked one on top of another, in kits that are then moved around the hospital and administered to patients. Tags may have been read properly on the assembly line, but if a hospital drops a vial into a kit and it isn’t read, that vial will not exist in the RFID-based software. Thus, tags need to be versatile, MacDonald says, adding, “It’s about quality and tag performance.” The new tag provides that solution, Lee notes. The companies spent two years working to get performance right.

For manufacturers, however, there is still a large learning curve for deploying those tags. Challenges include how to enable an assembly line to use and test the tags, how to introduce RFID to label converters, and how to accomplish these goals at manufacturing sites around the world. “We’ve arrived at a point,” MacDonald says, “where some of the larger manufactures are saying ‘Hey, I want to include RFID as part of my offering.'” But they don’t yet know how to enable their assembly line, ensure the tags will work at the hospital and accommodate a very complex environment at production sites worldwide.

At the same time, Lee notes, Avery Dennison has been pursuing a business strategy of building partnerships to help deploy RFID solutions in health care and other markets. “About three years ago,” he recalls, “we started growing the RFID market within the health-care segment.” During the last few years, Lee adds, “Our main objective has been building relationships and supporting channel partners.”

Thanks to its partnership with Kit Check, Avery Dennison says it can help manufacturers adopt RFID in their production processes. Some manufacturers use label converters that are already comfortable with RFID, while other converters need support to integrate RFID tags into their own labels. “Some of these labels are quite complex,” Lee notes. “If they already have a converter, we can work with that converter” to build the inlay into a label so it could be seamless for the manufacturer.

Some manufacturers, on the other hand, may require assistance with setting up their own label conversion in-house, Lee says, and Avery Dennison can help with that as well. One compounder that is taking on the label-conversion process is Nephron Pharmaceuticals (see Drug Company Automates RFID Tagging of Compounded Products). The firm is among about a half-dozen compounders using the Kit Check solution, MacDonald says.

Avery Dennison can also help to establish a reader infrastructure for its customers, Lee says, which can include working with systems integrators and RFID hardware vendors. Eventually, he predicts, “Our ambition is for every pharmaceutical product of value to have RIFD tags or labels on them.” If tags continue to be applied to medications and other products, companies that make the dispensing cabinets may also build RFID reading functionality.

Tag development is still ongoing, Lee says. “For the last few years, we have had a very robust, high-performing product. Now, we want to make that tag smaller, while maintaining performance.” The current tag measures 40 millimeters by 15 millimeters (1.6 inches by 0.6 inch), while the company continues to engineer a version that will be significantly smaller than that. “We are constantly innovating and developing with Kit Check,” Lee states.

“Working with Avery Dennison, we will help to accelerate the industry’s adoption of RFID to enable better security and visibility,” MacDonald adds. “By tagging drugs at the production source, Kit Check can track medications along every point in the supply chain.”