Getting Around The Product-Within-A-Product RFID Challenge

Written by Evan Schuman
November 10th, 2006

One of the many challenges with RFID has been doing simultaneous scans of a product and the product’s container. For example, manufacturers have long wanted to be able to scan a case of products that supposedly contains 50 bottles of a pharmaceutical while at the same time scanning each of those bottles to verify the contents. The problem is interference between the bottle-attached tags and the container-attached tags.

A Palo Alto, Ca., vendor claims to have concocted a simple workaround involving using UHF tags on the containers and HF tags on the individual products. Blue Vector Systems next week will announce its workaround, to be described as a dual-frequency RFID conveyor tunnel and positioned initially for the healthcare space. “An embedded Blue Vector Edge Manager in the tunnel manages the multiple sensors required and executes business rules in real-time as cases and items are scanned,” according to a draft a company statement. “These rules can be used to remove cases from the line, to load EPC-compliant information into backend systems, to authenticate items with the original manufacturer, and to send advance shipping notices to supply chain partners. The tunnel can be configured and monitored via a web interface.”

Although the system is being positioned to thwart drug counterfeiting–Blue Vector is working with the manufacturer of Viagra–their current approach doesn’t attempt to identify tampering. As long as the number of tagged bottles is what it’s supposed to be, it gets a greenlight. None of the individual bottle wrappers are, at this stage, tagged, theoretically permitting someone to replace the bottle’s contents if they can get around packaging protections.


2 Comments | Read Getting Around The Product-Within-A-Product RFID Challenge

  1. Pete Abell Says:

    There are a number of solid technical capabilities for reading multiple frequencies and protocols which have come about since the early days of tha Auto-ID Center. ThingMagic has had an architecture that was very capable of reading both UHF and HF. The difficulty is political not practical. Certain camps have continuously pushed a “one size fits all” approach with a thought process that pushes UHF Gen 2 into all product types and use requirements. The mere fact that physics enters into the equation does not daunt them. This is just another good example of using an existing standard (I assume that the HF tags are using ISO 15693) combining it with the Gen 2 UHF standard for supply chain and a solid possibility to the e-pedigree case and item level is now available to be chosen.

  2. Chris Kapsambelis Says:

    It really makes no difference which frequency is used since neither can achieve 100% read rates.

    The good news is that for this application the read rate does not need to be that high. Unlike the typical case where one is interested in an accurate inventory count of the items in the case, the use of RFID in authenticating pharmaceuticals is more of an inspection system where one is looking for any item that is a counterfeit. So a case of 50 counterfeit items needs only one reading to be flagged as counterfeit.

    This may be one of the few legitimate RFID applications. At the point of sale, where items are dispensed one at a time, one may use RFID or the backup 2d Barcode to authenticate the item.


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