RFID Considerations for Specific Industries
This development is probably closer than you may think. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a recommendation that pharmaceutical companies look at RFID and the use of e-pedigrees to help prevent counterfeiting of drugs, this issue has been high on the agenda of the industry. In 2005, a pilot program was carried out in the U.K. by Aegate, a pharmaceutical authentication service provider, in association with BT and DHL. Six U.K. pharmaceutical manufacturers—including Merck Generics UK, Merck Pharmaceuticals, Novartis, Schering Health Care, and Solvay—participated in the pilot, which examined using RFID and bar coding at the point of dispensing in 50 outlets as a way to detect fraudulent and counterfeit medicines. This pilot confined itself to authenticity of products from manufacture to dispensing to patients. Results from this pilot should be released in spring of 2006.
A number of applications providers have launched solutions to enable pharmaceutical companies to track and trace products through the use of electronic pedigrees at the unit level.
In addition, EPCglobal has developed a version of its EPC Value Model to help pharma manufacturers build a case for using EPC RFID to reduce product counterfeiting, diversion, reverse logistics, and other areas. The Value Model goes beyond pallet- and case-level tagging to include individual packaging levels.
These developments may very well serve to accelerate the adoption of RFID tagging at the item level in pharmaceuticals, as both the means and the justification for adopting this strategy converge this year.
Some of the largest importers and exporters are looking at RFID to both improve security and visibility of their shipments. Because RFID makes it possible to both detect and record any act of tampering with a seal that was applied at the point of origin, it can add a level of security to containers arriving for inspection. Implementing RFID can have almost immediate payback by enabling shipments from overseas to earn "green lane" status under the U.S. Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program, which could move goods through inspections much faster, resulting in significant productivity gains. A number of freight forwarders and shippers are exploring the technology at the request of importers and exporters, with an eye to implementation within three years.
RFID is of high interest to the perishable goods industry because there are such tight deadlines in which to get goods to shelves in the retail operation. Some food products can spoil in as little as seven days. RFID tags can be used to track food products through the supply chain and gather data that can reveal how long it took products to move from one point to another. Ambient data, such as temperature or humidity, can also be captured to indicate how much shelf life is left for given products. Some in the industry are hoping to use this data to calculate when to replenish perishables and how much product to put on shelves. The benefits of applying RFID to perishable goods include improved food safety, more efficient product recalls, reduced costs due to less spoilage, lower inventories, more efficient logistics, and improved customer service
How could you use RFID in libraries? Also, is it possible to use RFID to track assets in hospitals such as wheelchairs, beds, UV pumps, etc.?
Libraries have already incorporated HF 13.56 MHz RFID technology into their operations in order to track their assets (books, audio CDs, DVDs, etc.). Real-time locating systems—based on active RFID tags—are being used in hospitals to track large, non-consumable assets, such as wheelchairs. Basically, receivers or transceivers (like WLAN access points) are posted at key points in a location. The tags—which are battery-powered active—are attached to assets, and they broadcast their identification numbers on a regular basis. The number typically gets picked up at two or three access points. The system that receives the information can calculate the amount of time it took for the asset ID code to get to each of these points, effectively using the data to determine where the asset is relative to the fixed receivers.
What, if any, applications are available utilizing RFID to perform passive patient tracking? Has Zebra partnered with any vendors who offer this technology?
RFID has been applied to patient tracking in all sorts of environments, and there are a number of applications out there to support this. Zebra has been more involved in the area of patient identification. Zebra's RFID products allow hospitals and other healthcare facilities to create patient wristbands on demand; these wristbands hold current patient information, enabling staff to obtain positive patient verification when providing treatment.
13.56 MHz RFID has been tested for blood and plasma applications with very good results. People are starting to look at UHF RFID as well. Liquids in general pose more challenges in UHF applications, however.