associated with a specific lot number. As the container passes
through an RFID portal at various stages of the supply chain,
the reader collects and transmits the encoded data, which
includes information such as the batch’s time of production,
machine used, and expiration date.
This encoded information has several legs. First, the manufacturer can use the data collected at each step to validate its
processes. Did this batch of product hit station a, b and c in
that order, or did it skip a step? Because this data is captured
via machine-to-machine transactions, it is non-duplicable, so
manufacturers can confidently authenticate their processes
to prove compliance and ensure a quality end product.
Second, in the event of a recall, the manufacturer can go
into a database and easily look up the exact lot number of the
affected product and pull just that batch from store shelves.
There is no need to spend valuable time and money (and
compromise the manufacturer’s reputation) pulling every
single product in an effort to remove the faulty batch, as was
the case with the famous Tylenol scare in the 80s.
Manufacturers can also utilize this data to track expiration
dates by lot number. This ability is especially useful in vendor-managed inventory processes. If a batch of product is about to
expire, a manufacturer or distributor can alert the retailer when
to discard the appropriate items, and then replenish the inventory.
Plus, by extending the RFID system to the retail level, store
employees in the field could use handheld readers to instantaneously check expiration dates, verify lot numbers, and so forth,
Another application of passive RFID in the pharmaceutical
industry is in counterfeit prevention and labeling fraud. Not
only can RFID help prove the validity of a product through
its chain of custody data, but it can deter counterfeiting altogether, as tags are difficult to tamper with or duplicate.
Furthermore, each tag has its own transponder identification (TID) number that is unique to the chip manufacturer.
Many pharmaceutical manufacturers are linking this read-only number to a product identifier within their database. If,
at any read event, the TID number and the product identifier
do not match, there is a good chance that someone has done
something incorrectly or there is a possible counterfeit label
Real-Time Tracking with Active RFID
As opposed to passive RFID, active RFID tags have their own
internal power supply and serve as real-time locating systems
(RTLS) that track large, high-value items. On the manufacturing
plant floor, active tags may be used to track costly equipment,
large containers, or even people, allowing operators to know
Ten years ago, companies began turning to radio frequency
identification (RFID) technology to enable more accurate and effi-
cient tracking capabilities, only to find that the technology itself
was not mature enough to handle their requirements. Many of
these companies – not just those in the pharmaceutical industry –
abandoned their RFID efforts and looked elsewhere for a solution
or stuck with the status quo.
Fast forward to today, and it is obvious that RFID has come a
long way. Read rates are more precise, tag costs are down, memory space has increased, and systems are more flexible. As a result,
the pharmaceutical industry is revisiting RFID to eliminate user-initiated, line-of-sight data collection activities warranted by other
types of technology, like barcodes. With RFID on the rise, let’s take
a closer look at some of the technology’s most prominent trends
and applications within today’s pharmaceutical industry.
Tracking and Tracing with Passive RFID
For the pharmaceutical industry, passive RFID systems are
the most common due to their low-cost tags and ability to
track assets throughout the supply chain. Relying on fixed
readers to serve as its power source to pick up and transmit
its data, passive RFID is ideal for tracking high-volumes of
smaller items, like pills or bottled product, in pallets or containers with a standardized pattern of material flow.
When introduced at the manufacturing level, if not sooner,
passive RFID can help create a detailed audit trail that serves
numerous purposes, from the plant floor through the supply
chain and beyond. During the manufacturing process, RFID
tags are attached to pallets or containers that hold a product
A look at today’s trends and top applications in the pharmaceutical industry
n By Tom O’Boyle, Director of RFID, Barcoding, Inc.