EPC GENERAL INFORMATION RFID RFID stands for radio frequency identification. It is a technology that has existed for decades. At a simple level, it is a technology that involves tags that emit radio signals and devices called readers that pick up the signal. RFID technology is a fundamental element of the EPC Network. RFID is a technology that uses radio waves to automatically identify items. RFID tags have been used for over 30 years in industry, but, traditionally, have been too expensive to use widely throughout the supply chain. The Auto-ID Center has worked with technology companies to create “cheap chip” RFID tags. The target price of the tags is $.05. The tags carry an electronic product code (EPC) that uniquely identifies a particular item. The EPC includes identification of the manufacturer, the product, and a unique serial number. For example, if EPC tags were placed on individual cans of soda in a case of 24 cans, each of the cans of soda would be uniquely identified. The system could tell one can from another by reading the EPC tag on the individual can. EPC Network The EPC Network is a set of technologies that enable immediate, automatic identification and sharing of information on items in the supply chain. In that way, the EPC Network will make organizations more effective by enabling true visibility of information about items in the supply chain. The EPC Network uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to enable true visibility of information about items in the supply chain. The network is comprised of five fundamental elements: the Electronic Product Code (EPC), the ID System (EPC Tags and Readers), Object Name Service (ONS), Physical Markup Language (PML), and Savant. Essentially, the EPC is a number designed to uniquely identify a specific item in the supply chain. The EPC number sits on a tag comprised of a silicon chip and an antenna, which is attached to an item. Using radio identification technology (RFID), a tag “communicates” its number to a reader. The reader then passes the number to a computer or local application system, known as the Object Name Service (ONS). ONS tells the computer systems where to locate information on the network about the object carrying an EPC, such as when the item was produced. Physical Markup Language (PML) is used as a common language in the EPC Network to define data on physical objects. Savant is a software technology that acts as the central nervous system of the EPC Network. Savant manages and moves information in a way that does not overload existing corporate and public networks. Now is the time to begin preparing for this technology. Fundamentally, there are three steps to take: 1. Form an EPC team at a senior level. 2. Subscribe to EPCglobal and take advantage of the many valuable opportunities the EPC Network provides for trading partners to collaborate in new ways. 3. Begin sharing your implementation plans with trading partners so they can plan and adapt accordingly. Companies that are interested in a subscription to EPCglobal should contact their national EAN Member Organization (see EAN International website for details: www.ean-int.org). Prospective subscribers based in the U.S. should contact Brooke Peterson, director of business development, EPCglobal US, at: bpeterson@uc- council.org or visit the EPCglobal US website (www.epcglobalus.org) where subscription applications are available. How is an EPC Manager Number Different From an EAN.UCC Company Prefix? The Electronic Product Code (EPC) is the next generation of product identification. Like the EAN.UCC GTIN, the EPC is divided into numbers that identify the manufacturer, product, version, and serial number. But, the EPC uses an extra set of digits, a serial number, to identify unique items. The EPC is the only information stored on the EPC tag. This keeps the cost of the tag down and provides flexibility, since an infinite amount of dynamic data can be associated with the serial number in the database. Current Status Although RFID has been around for decades, the electronic product code is a technology still in its infancy stage. The EPC revolution has been led by the consumer product goods (CPG) industry with the pharmaceutical industry becoming increasingly more involved. Several pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors and chain pharmacies are currently involved in an industry-group to pilot the usage of EPC tags in the healthcare supply chain. (Accenture Pharma Jumpstart Pilot). In addition, several pharmaceutical manufacturers are running pilots within their own distribution centers. HDMA is actively working with all stakeholders to further the education and awareness of EPC in healthcare. We have hired AT Kearney to conduct a feasibility study on the cost/benefit of using EPC in healthcare and will be examining several products for identification. The products have been highly susceptible to counterfeiters and are either in a tablet or injectable formulation. Expected Implementation Timeframes Timeframes for implementation will depend on many factors such as executive level commitment, cost/benefit analyses, company and product attributes, etc. However, there have been several organizations and Associations who have set the bar high for a percentage of adoption by the industry. WalMart has mandated that EPC tags be used all C2 products (at the unit level) by March, 2004 and on the case level by 2005. DOD has mandated the use of EPC tags at the case/pallet level by 2005. HDMA has requested the use of EPC tags at the case/pallet level by 2005 and each level by 2007. What is EPCglobal? EPCglobal is a joint venture between EAN International and the Uniform Code Council (UCC). EPCglobal is a not-for-profit organization entrusted by industry to establish and support the EPC Network as the global standard for immediate, automatic, and accurate identification of any item in the supply chain of any company, in any industry, anywhere in the world. The objective is to drive global adoption of the EPC Network. The EPC Network was developed by the Auto-ID Center, an academic research project headquartered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) with labs at five leading research universities around the globe. Benefits of the Technology The EPC Network will make organizations more effective by enabling true visibility of information about items in the supply chain. Having more accurate, immediate information about the location of items, the history of items, and the number of items in the supply chain will enable organizations to be more responsive to customers and consumer needs through more efficient, customer-driven operations. In the pharmaceutical industry, benefits include: Inventory management (recalls/withdrawals, stock rotation, reduce shrinkage) Anti-counterfeiting strategies (track and trace capabilities) Will EPC Tags Replace Bar Codes? Bar coding is a line-of-sight technology, meaning that each individual item would have to be handled to scan serial numbers with a bar code reader. For example, in a shipment of 6 cases with 12 vials in each box, each vial would need to be read individually for the bar code scan before the shipment could be sent. This method is labor intensive and time consuming; in addition, there is potential for error in reading the same vial twice or missing a vial. EPC tags enable automatic, non-line-of-sight identification. With RFID, this process would occur as the cases, not the individual items are moved passed the reader. This reduces the possibility of errors and the labor necessary to achieve the same results. EPC is an exciting technology that represents a potential new standard to uniquely identify products. But, its implementation will evolve over time with applications driven by market and consumer demand. We will be living in a world where bar codes and EPC tags co-exist for quite some time to come. Is the EPC Network An Industry Standard, and When and How Will It Become an Industry Standard? It is the goal and mission of EPCglobal to establish and support the EPC Network as a new global standard for immediate, automatic identification of any item in the supply chain of any company, in any industry, anywhere in the world. EPCglobal will lead a neutral, user-driven, consensus-based process where every organization has the opportunity to contribute. Is the EPC Network Very Susceptible to Hacking and Other Security Breaches? What are you Doing to Ensure the Integrity of the Network? Security is an important part of the EPC Network. The EPC Network uses industry recognized best practices to protect its data. In addition, the EPC Network functions like a virtual private network or VPN. Data lives both behind a subscriber company’s firewall and inside the data registry system at EPCglobal. Privacy Concerns EPCglobal is strongly committed to protecting personal privacy. This is an issue the organization takes very seriously and, under the Auto-ID Center’s leadership, has been proactively addressing since the earliest stages of the research effort to develop the EPC Network. This proactive effort has generated technical and policy solutions, including a set of guiding principles.