Is RFID Useful in the Pharmaceuticals Industry?

By RFID Journal

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Ask The ExpertsIs RFID Useful in the Pharmaceuticals Industry?
RFID Journal Staff asked 13 years ago

Can you please explain some of the technology's applications in that field?

—Sai Kiran


Dear Sai Kiran,

The question of whether or not radio frequency identification is useful in the pharmaceuticals sector depends on whether or not a drug company has business problems that the technology can solve.

In some countries, counterfeiting, theft and diversion constitute major problems, so some pharmaceutical companies are employing RFID to track shipments closely as they move through the supply chain, in order to determine where theft or diversion is occurring, and to ensure that the medications arriving at pharmacies are legitimate. Oxycontin manufacturer Purdue Pharma, Viagra maker Pfizer and other companies have used RFID to reduce counterfeiting (see Purdue Pharma Uses RFID to Combat Counterfeiting and Pfizer Using RFID to Fight Fake Viagra).

Another issue that distributors have is keeping track of pallets coming in, breaking them down and then shipping the proper orders out to pharmacies. Some pharmaceutical distributors are tagging cases as they arrive, so that orders can be automatically checked before shipping, by reading the RFID tags on the cases. If there is a problem, software can be set up to alert a worker that a case is missing, or that the wrong case is on a pallet.

Gador Laboratories, one of Argentina's largest pharmaceutical providers, is installing an RFID solution at one of its factories that will enable the firm to track individual pharmaceutical products, as well as the pallets on which they are transported (see Gador to Track Drugs in Argentina). And Argentine pharmaceutical distribution company Axxa Pharma saw a 40 percent rise in its profit margins after it began utilizing RFID at its Buenos Aires warehouse 18 months ago (see RFID Boosts Profit Margin, Safety for Axxa Pharma).

Pharmaceutical manufacturers are also looking to utilize RFID to track raw materials. Chemicals used in the manufacture of drugs are often stored, and if workers remove a newer batch of chemicals first, an older batch might pass its expiration date, thereby causing the company to lose money. By identifying and tracking specific batches of chemicals, manufacturers can save money and improve warehouse efficiency.

Some pharmaceutical companies are using RFID to track temperature-sensitive medications. Drug shipments might be monitored, but they require employees to manually check temperature loggers. With RFID, the data from a temperature sensor is recorded, but if the temperature falls outside of a preset range, that information is transmitted to the RFID tag, which communicates that data to a reader the next time that the tag is interrogated. This enables companies to be more proactive in addressing any issues, and also helps prevent medicines from spoiling.

Delivery and logistics firm DHL has tested an RFID-based temperature-tracking system for a European pharmaceutical company. The system tracks the location of vehicles transporting temperature-sensitive products in real time, as well as the temperatures within those vehicles (see DHL, AeroScout, Microlise Team to Track Temperature for Pharma Maker).

Finally, RFID might be employed in the packaging of pharmaceutical products, to protect them from being tampered with. West Pharmacuetical Services has developed an RFID-based product and service offering to help pharmaceutical manufacturers guard injectable drugs against counterfeiting and tampering (see Packager Uses Tags to Protect Injectables).

Discussed above are just some of the applications of RFID in the pharmaceutical industry. If you visit the Pharmaceutical area of our Web site, you will find many more articles of interest.

—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal

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