California based Prescription Solutions believes it is the first mail order prescription company to provide their customers with induction sealed products.
"We wanted tamper evidence to increase consumer confidence and because there's occasionally rough handling in the mail. With an induction seal, even if the cap should be broken for some reason, the bottle remains sealed. You have to destroy the bottle or the liner to get into the contents," says the company's Pharmacy Manager Dave Booher.
The results have been fantastic. Booher cites "...economic savings, improved safety, and increased patient satisfaction. Induction sealing also reduces general loss in that we don't have to replace product that's been damaged or spilled."
The company faced a challenge when it added induction sealing to their packaging line.
Implementing induction sealing provided Prescription solutions with a challenge. At any given moment the company relies on extensive RFID technology to track anywhere between 400 to 500 individual drug prescriptions on the line.
Each pill bottle is conveyed in a high density polyethylene puck. Each puck includes an RFID chip or tag with an antenna. As the pucks are conveyed on the line, they pass numerous RFID antenna readers that constantly emit RF signals.
The tag responds with the chip number that corresponds to the prescription. That number is downloaded into a computer, which in turn, triggers pneumatic devices on the conveyor that assist the movement of the puck downstream.
Trouble was, the signal frequency of the RFID equipment was in the same range as the frequency emitted by the original induction sealer used on the line.
"Our previous sealer's signals prevented the RFID chip from effectively communicating with the readers along the conveyor," relates Booher. "The main issue was within about a 10-foot radius around the [sealer] that was disrupting the RF communications. The lack of communication meant the puck couldn't be diverted where it was supposed to go. It disrupted the routing." That slowed down the line because it delayed the puck from moving downstream.
The frequency difficulties were especially nettlesome, Booher says, because "to my knowledge, we were the first mail-service pharmacy to begin to safety-seal prescription medications before mailing them out".
RFID Friendly solution
"We tried several remedies to shield the sealer in some way," says Booher. "The [other] sealer vendor worked with us and provided some ideas, suggestions, and add-on components. We started out with a 10-foot radius of interference and we were able to eventually reduce it to 3 1/2 feet, but it was still interfering with one or two readers that were within that radius, so it was unacceptable. That was about a year ago."
"Since the company added the Enercon unit we haven’t had those complaints."
-Dave Booher, Pharmacy Manager
Prescription Solutions worked with its distributor, Tri State Distribution to remedy the difficulty. Tri State had originally suggested induction-sealing the bottles and recommended the Enercon equipment.
"Bill Zito at Enercon recommended a [different] machine that focused its energy waves in a different fashion. We weren't sure about it, but we gave it a try. As it turned out, it didn't create the issues the other unit did."
The system's coil design is designed to focus its energy only to the seal area, so it doesn't cause interference with the frequencies emitted by the RFID readers.
Not only did the Enercon unit eliminate the frequency pollution, it also boosted customer service. "Before, we'd get occasional complaints from patients saying the postman must have stepped on the prescription bottle or bag because the cap broke and the pills all spilled in the bag," says Booher. Since the company added the Enercon unit (it now employs five different Enercon sealers for different lines at the plant), "we haven't had those complaints."
All those benefits sound good to Prescription Solutions - at any frequency!
Originally appeared in Packaging World December 2004.
Also appeared in eNews: Induction Sealing Technology 2nd Quarter 2005.