Magazine Article | October 23, 2006

Improve Pharmaceutical Traceability

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
Integrated Solutions, November 2006

H. D. Smith, a large pharmaceutical wholesaler in Springfield, IL, has six DCs (distribution centers) covering retail markets from coast to coast. Although its products are not limited to pharmaceuticals, company officials focused IT efforts on securing the integrity of schedule II controlled substances (e.g. codeine, hydrocodone). Though regulations vary by state, the integrity of potentially harmful drug records is an industry-wide concern and a matter of strict FDA control. In 2004, H. D. Smith began working with Franwell, a supply chain RFID (radio frequency identification) solution provider and integrator, to complete an end-to-end track and trace solution enabling a verifiable electronic pedigree — something no other pharmaceutical distributor had ever achieved. The wholesaler’s long-term goal was for its suppliers and customers to validate products using RFID to provide complete tracking. Additionally, it wanted to integrate to an online EPC (electronic product code) network for trading partner verification.

H. D. Smith chose Franwell to supply an RFID system that was simply implemented and provided accurate data collection. Franwell, based in Florida, was aware that its state was one of the first to institute advanced regulations for drug security. Its government knowledge and understanding of supply chains made the integrator sensitive to the vast potential of RFID technology within the pharmaceutical sector.  

Franwell’s solution did not abandon bar coding. Data is collected via bar code and stored in a database with the EPC values on the RFID tags, then integrated with H. D. Smith’s existing back end systems. The solution allows employees to validate item data through automatic identification.

The project consisted of several phases that modified the shipping and receiving processes. Now, as controlled substances are received from manufacturers into secured vaults, they are tagged with tiny RFID tags designed for pharmaceuticals. As the products pass by RFID readers, data feeds the database. Tagged bottles are shipped from the secured vaults and placed in cardboard totes. The rfid> Tote Portal hardware that Franwell developed specifically for H. D. Smith’s solution houses RFID readers and antennae in one unit. During transportation, totes are passed through portals to automatically verify shipping information. The portals are used at the DC, retail stores, and healthcare facilities.

The second phase of the project extended the receiving verification process from retail stores to healthcare facilities. By the time Phase II was completed, some pharmaceutical manufacturers were using RFID tags on controlled substances received by H. D. Smith, which enabled the automatic collection of additional product data upon receipt.

H. D. Smith now tracks critical data through its supply chain — from the manufacturers to the stores. With the Franwell solution, the wholesaler improved the quality of RFID reception and expanded usage in several business processes. Technical engineers from both companies tested and deployed a variety of tote portals to improve and refine the tracking system.