TAGSYS Guarantees Six Sigma RFID Performance

TAGSYS is offering what it calls a first-of-its-kind guarantee: Six Sigma read accuracy for high frequency RFID technology used for item-level pharmaceutical tagging. TAGSYS intends for the program to give pharmaceutical companies confidence in RFID for track-and-trace applications.
Published: March 21, 2007

This article was originally published by RFID Update.

March 21, 2007—TAGSYS announced a new service that guarantees no more than four failures per million reads for high frequency (13.56 MHz) passive RFID tags used for item-level pharmaceutical product tracking. TAGSYS is hopeful its new Six Sigma Performance Program will assure the confidence in RFID quality-of-service (QoS) that pharmaceutical companies need for large-scale deployments, and that it will raise the bar for competitors trying to capture a piece of the potentially lucrative market.

“Low expectations of service levels are a problem in the RFID industry,” John Jordon, president of TAGSYS sales and worldwide field operations, told RFID Update. “We are making a quality of service guarantee to put the focus on client requirements and move past the frequency debate.”

TAGSYS, which produces both high frequency (HF) and ultrahigh (UHF) RFID tags and readers, makes the QoS guarantee specifically for HF products. The Six Sigma Performance Program requires customers to use TAGSYS tags, readers, and e-connectware management software. Customers aren’t required to use TAGSYS or its certified partners for systems integration or implementation services, but TAGSYS must approve the system design and installation. The program is offered as a subscription service that includes a “technology refresh” option that allows customer to upgrade to new TAGSYS products as they become available.

The service is initially for the pharmaceutical industry to facilitate track-and-trace applications, but it could be expanded to other industries. Jordon cited the results Cardinal Health released last year from its UHF Gen2 item-level tagging pilot as an example of how low performance expectations are a barrier to adoption (see Pharmaceutical RFID Pilot Finds Promise, Problems). Cardinal said it learned a lot from its pilot and considered the program a success, but attained a top item-level read rate of 99.5 percent for one operation and a low of 7.8 percent for another. Case-level read rates ranged from 76.3 to 100 percent.

“Shifting the debate from protocol or frequency to quality of service should release pent-up demand in RFID adoption,” TAGSYS quotes Drew Nathanson, RFID practice director at industry research firm Venture Development (VDC), in its announcement. “TAGSYS is not only raising the bar with this new service offering and performance program, but is also reducing technology investment risk for end users in a rapidly evolving market.”

The program guarantees Six Sigma read reliability for tagged products coming off a production line, and makes additional quality of service guarantees for other operations. “We can make these guarantees because we have real operational data on millions of tag reads over 18 months of actual deployments,” Jordon said. “This isn’t based on lab tests or factory acceptance rates.”

TAGSYS has no immediate plans to provide similar quality of service guarantees for Gen2 and other UHF technology, which Jordon asserted is at least “two years behind” HF technology for item-level tagging. “We can’t offer the same service guarantee for UHF technology, because the same data just doesn’t exist.”

The TAGSYS announcement not only sets a theoretical performance threshold of four errors per million reads for any technology to match, it may renew the debate as to whether HF or UHF RFID technology is most appropriate for item-level pharmaceutical tagging. Increased performance standards are likely good for RFID adoption; persistence of the HF vs. UHF debate, on the other hand, could cause end users to adopt a more conservative wait-and-see approach to deployment.

TAGSYS has shored up early support for the program, enlisting a number of partners that includes billion-dollar pharmaceutical packaging provider Alcan, large label converter CCL, semiconductor firm NXP, RFID solutions provider ODIN technologies, pharmaceutical packaging systems supplier SYSTECH International, and West Pharmaceutical Services, a manufacturer of components and systems for injectable drug delivery.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors are generally accepting of RFID technology’s potential to improve supply chain operations (see RFID E-Pedigree’s Potential to Improve Pharma). Furthermore, pending federal traceability legislation and e-pedigree laws already in effect in certain U.S. states are creating pressure to put automated procedures in place. Some analysts believe the combination of these factors could make pharmaceutical item-level tagging the largest segment of the RFID industry in the near term — provided the technology can do the job.