RFID for pharma item serialization: NXP and Siemens jump into the breach

Pharmaceutical Commerce, Pharmaceutical Commerce - July/August 2009,

Companies collaborate on customized system tailored to the pharma supply chain

Two European industrial-electronics powerhouses, NXP (Eindhoven, Netherlands) and Siemens IT Solutions and Services (Munich) have collaborated to build a “customized system” for pharma supply-chain application. The project work was carried out at NXP’s Application and Systems Center, near Graz, Austria, and deploys NXP’s HF (high frequency) RFID tags. According to a news release, the implementation achieved “benchmark HF read accuracy results” and uses an “advanced high-speed anti-collision concept” to ensure that individual tags can be read correctly as tagged packages move down a packaging line.

The announcement is notable—and puzzling—on several fronts. NXP notes that its tags use the ICode standard (which it developed several years ago), and says that the system is ready to comply with “the latest HF Gen2 standard” now under review by the EPCglobal organization (which is now part of the GS1 Healthcare Group). But that standard has been at something of a standstill since early 2008. Although there are numerous one-off exceptions, whatever RFID work is still going on in the pharma industry has moved on to UHF tags, based on an established UHF Gen2 standard from the same EPCglobal group.

Further, RFID for serializing individual pharma packages has been superseded—particularly in Europe—by industry efforts to adapt barcode technology to serialization. Siemens itself is the lead project manager for a pilot program getting under way around now, under the auspices of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industry Associations (EFPIA) that was announced this spring. Most industry observers expect US serialization efforts to eventually follow the barcode path.

FDA still has an obligation to Congress to announce a serialization framework—specified to be compatible with international standards—in March 2010. And a drumbeat is beginning, by industry serialization technology vendors, for manufacturers to get ready for e-pedigree rules that could come out of California—or the federal government, if any of several bills get revived in the current Congress—starting in 2015.