Nutraceutical Company to Use eAgile’s RFID Solution to Track Its Products

By Claire Swedberg

The firm has ordered millions of eSeal bottle enclosures to manage the bottling and shipping of products, with long-term plans to track them throughout the supply chain.

RFID technology company eAgile is marketing a solution known as eSeal that aims to enable the automatic tracking of containers of medication from the point of manufacture to the drugstore counter or a patient's hospital bedside. The eSeal is an ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID-enabled cap that can be attached to a bottle of prescription or over-the-counter medication, and would then be tracked throughout the supply chain via eAgile's software.

EAgile, based in Grand Rapids, Mich., offers a variety of RFID-based solutions. The company began looking into new markets in recent years, and zeroed in on pharmaceuticals and health care. "We were looking at where RFID could provide more value and service to society," says Gary Burns, eAgile's CEO. Medical errors lead to illness and death at a rate of 400,000 times annually, according to Burns, and many of those are the result of patients taking the wrong medications or taking drugs at the wrong dose. In addition, counterfeit products make their way into the supply chain, which can also impact patient health.

The eSeal cap contains an integrated passive RFID inlay.

So by the third quarter of 2015, eAgile was beta-testing the eSeal, as well as its related hardware infrastructure and management software. The long-term goal, Burns says, is for the system to track every bottle from factory to consumer, though it had been initially tested by an unnamed nutraceutical company at its manufacturing facilities so that the firm could identify when its medications were bottled and shipped. That nutraceutical company has completed the beta-testing and is now ordering the caps in the millions, he reports, and plans to extend the system's use into distribution centers as well.

The eSeal solution integrates a uniquely encoded RFID inlay between a pharmaceutical bottle's closure and seal, with eAgile providing a complete cap and seal compatible with a drug manufacturer's existing production equipment. The eSeal caps and closures are made with the exact diameter of existing caps and closures that drug makers currently use to seal medicine-filled bottles. "There's already great uniformity in the nature of enclosures," Burns states.

Currently, the eSeal cap is made with an Impinj passive UHF RFID chip. The chip and inlay are located between the cap's closure and seal. The chip stores a unique identifier that can be linked to the product's name, strength, serial number and batch number, as well as to the date and location of manufacture. A version of the eSeal cap is available whereby if a cap's seal has been broken, its chip will cease to function, thereby serving to alert a manufacture that someone may have tampered with that bottle.

Once an eSeal cap is attached to a container filled with medication, its RFID tag can be interrogated by multiple makes and models of readers, installed by eAgile. In this way, the system confirms the product's serial number and links that information to the batch data in the eAgile software, which forwards that data to the user's own management software.

During the beta trial, the eSeal caps were read in this manner, following bottling, and again at the point at which cartons of product were palletized and shrink-wrapped, thus creating a record of what was being shipped, as well as when this occurred. If the tag IDs read at that time did not match the ordered products, software could display an alert to correct a problem before the shipment was delivered to a customer.

RFID tags attached to cartons or pallets could also be married to the eSeal tag ID numbers. This would enable the software to track which items should be in which carton or on what pallet, and thereby indicate any potential discrepancies.

That data could be shared with consumers, if the pharmaceutical company chooses to do so, as well as with distributors. If RFID readers were installed at warehouses, drugstores or hospitals, a complete chain of custody could be tracked. If, at any point, a cap's RFID tag was not read, Burns says, the software could identify the problem, and employees could then determine whether a bottle had gone missing, a counterfeit had been introduced to replace a valid bottle, or a bottle had been opened and its seal broken.

Gary Burns, eAgile's CEO

At the drugstore or hospital, the RFID tags could be interrogated again before medications were dispensed to a patient. This would help to ensure that no mistakes were being made.

In approximately the third quarter of this year, Burns says, eAgile will introduce eSeal caps that incorporate EM Microelectronic's EM4423 chip, which operates at both the UHF and high-frequency (HF) RFID bands and complies with the ISO 14443 Type A and EPC Gen2v2 (ISO 18000-63) standards (see Inlay Companies Testing EM Micro's Dual NFC and EPC Chip). The company will also offer a version of the eSeal cap or closure with an NXP Semiconductors HF RFID chip complying with the ISO 15693 standard.

According to Burns, the HF RFID technology will enable consumers to use the Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality of their own smartphones to learn about the drugs they are taking. A person would not require an app to do so. He or she would simply tap the phone against the bottle cap, and the phone's NFC RFID reader would capture the tag's ID and proceed directly to the brand-owner's website, where that individual could be informed whether that product was authentic. Furthermore, the system could ask if the user had any dosage questions, and whether or she wanted to view additional information about the product.

Some companies are already offering apps for patients, Burns reports, to make sure that they or their loved ones are taking medications on time. With the NFC-compatible eSeal caps, he explains, they could capture that information automatically and forward it to any interested parties, such as caretakers, health-care providers or family members.

"We're really excited about the eSeal," Burns states, "because it offers such a broad array of benefits."