Though the commercial usage of Radio Frequency Identification or RFID technology was started in the 1990s, its implementation in the pharmaceutical supply chain has been relatively new. Several pharma companies still rely on barcoding as the more widely accepted form of electronic identification. A barcode on a pharmaceutical product package acts as a stock-keeping unit (SKU) that contains a National Drug Code (NDC), along with other information including package size, lot number, and expiration date. However, updating critical information on a barcoded shipment often requires an additional barcode sticker, highlighting the need for RFID in the supply chain.
RFID offers a reliable way to retrieve product information, track and trace pharmaceuticals in the supply chain, and reduce the total cost of business (TCOB) in the event of product recalls. With the passage of the Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) in 2014, drug manufacturers, repackagers, wholesale distributors, and dispensers need to comply with the new product tracing requirements. This has further pushed the adoption of RFID in the pharmaceutical supply chain.
Advantages of RFID in the Pharmaceutical Supply Chain
An RFID-tagged product in the pharmaceutical supply chain, when read through an RFID system, transmits a distinct data code that helps in unique identification. This electronic product code contains specific data documenting the movement of the product from the manufacturing facility to the warehouse to the supplier or the retailer. This is particularly helpful to ensure the integrity of product during handling and transport.
RFID improves inventory accuracy for distributors and retailers and reduces the risks of a shortage of essential drugs.
Unlike linear 2D and matrix barcodes, RFID tags do not require a direct line of sight. This helps RFID systems to read hundreds of tags at the same time, thereby increasing the efficiency of the supply chain. The product information, as well as the track-and-trace technology programmed by a drug manufacturer, remains secured in an RFID tag and can be updated or adjusted in case of changing environments in the supply chain. All of these features of RFID technology offer a few distinct benefits in the pharmaceutical supply chain:
- Reinforcing product authenticity and combating counterfeit pharmaceutical products: Counterfeit and compromised drugs pose a major risk to public health. With RFID tags, the digitally generated unique code data, programmed by manufacturers, is difficult to duplicate and cannot be easily altered. This provides an enhanced level of product security in the supply chain.
- Effective inventory management: Real-time inventory tracking and management in the pharmaceutical supply chain is critical to ensure the safety of the products. RFID improves inventory accuracy for distributors and retailers and reduces the risks of a shortage of essential drugs. By keeping a tab on the limited expiry dates of the products, the technology helps in the effective implementation of First Expired, First Out (FEFO) in the warehouses.
- Better management of drug recalls: In the event of any drug recall, RFID tags can identify the exact product loads that have been recalled and trace their movement in the supply chain.
- Tracking and maintaining cold-chain logistics: With RFID solutions such as RFID portals positioned at the entrance to temperature controlled areas, temperature and humidity monitoring in warehouses is more efficient compared to manual monitoring. An automated cold-chain using RFID reduces the risks of human errors that cause expensive product wastage in the supply chain.
With so many advantages of RFID in the pharmaceutical supply chain, tags can be used as SKUs in the future. However, the cost of RFID sensing equipment is a key factor hampering the widespread use of RFID across the pharmaceutical sector. As a cost-effective alternative, RFID can also be used at pallet-level, offering greater transparency, ease, and accuracy within the supply chain than barcodes.
Increasing Supply Chain Transparency Through RFID-Embedded Plastic Pallets
RFID chips integrated into shipping pallets reduces the total number of tags needed in the supply chain. This helps to lower the overall cost of RFID tracking. By tracking pallets through a Warehouse Management System (WMS), logistics managers get a better view of the movement of the products throughout the supply chain, along with any changes in environmental conditions such as temperature and humidity during storage and transport. The pallet-level usage of RFID technology helps to immediately identify any lapses in the supply chain.
To make the overall process of implementing RFID technology more cost-effective, high-quality plastic pallets embedded with RFID chips can be used. Unlike wood pallets, plastic pallets are:
- More durable with a unitized construction that makes it cost-effective to embed RFID chips.
- Non-porous and do not absorb moisture during any change in temperature and humidity in the supply chain. This further reduces any growth of bacteria on the surface of pallets and reduces risks of contamination in a highly sanitized environment.
- Devoid of any splinters or protruding nails on the surface that makes them integrate better in an Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (ASRS).
With RFID-embedded plastic pallets, tracking and tracing of pharmaceutical products at the pallet-level increases the transparency of the supply chain while reducing cold chain shipping losses, ensuring better hygiene, and preserving the integrity of the products.
With iGPS plastic pallets equipped with RFID tags, you can get rid of redundant barcode scanning and improve traceability in the pharmaceutical supply chain. To learn more about our pallet pooling program, give our team a call at 1-800-884-0225, email a specialist at [email protected], or visit our contact page.