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European RFID requirements present challenges

Third in a series of reports from last November's RFID Healthcare Industry Adoption Summit in Arlington, VA.

At the conference, as many companies expressed reservations about RFID as those who announced momentum. Mark Seitz, supply chain consultant, global logistics, Eli Lilly and Co., pointed to significant roadblocks to using RFID, such as evolving requirements for "mass serialization" in Europe.

Italy, for example, requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to put what are called "Bollinis," government distributed labels, on all its drug packages, says Seitz. A French proposal would require a manufacturer to put a vignette sticker on the package. "We have a number of product coding options besides using RFID tags to meet these serialization requirements," explained Seitz. "We can use a one-dimensional bar code, a two-dimensional bar code or even use human-readable codes."

As far as making a decision on which route to go, Seitz stated that Lilly is still evaluating all serialization alternatives and needs to prepare itself for the distinct possibility of a "mixed operational environment. Jim Dowden, director of distribution services for Hoffman-LaRoche, Inc., talked about his company's pilot, which involved tagging vials, blister packs, and bottles inside a laboratory that was designed by Cap Gemini in Cambridge, MA. He said it is easy to put a tag on an item, and easy to put a tag on a carton. "But it is not so easy to read that tagged item in that tagged carton," he added.

That was especially true with blister packs. Hoffman experimented with three blister packs across and three up—for a total of nine—in every carton. Read rates were not very good, he reported.

Read rates were also an issue for H.D. Smith Wholesale Drug Co., one of the nation's biggest wholesalers. It began a pilot in March 2004 that involved shipping tagged Schedule II controlled substances to five accounts, four of them retail pharmacies and one hospital pharmacy.

But Robert Kashmer, vice president of Smith, acknowledged there are problems getting readers at those five locations to read the tags on the drugs when they arrive in the totes H.D. Smith uses to ship the individual bottles for an order. Kashmer explained that someone at the reading station has to tilt the tote until he or she gets the best orientation of the tags on the bottles in the tote leading to the highest read rates.

Another company presenter, who later pleaded for anonymity, boldly promised to buy everyone in the room a beer when the conference took place next year if his company had not gotten an RFID pilot off the ground by then. Just before the following session got underway, one attendee leaned over to the person next to him and said in a snigger loud enough to be heard six seats away, "I guess I know I'll be getting one free beer next year."

In March's Healthcare Pakaging

• Topical issues from MD&M West
• Induction sealing at Blessings Intl.
• Testing for leaks in high-altitude shipments

--By Stephen Barlas, Contributing Editor
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