Now a consortium of major drugs manufacturers, universities and institutions are to use a combination of emerging technologies, including 3D printed electronics, to advance medical labelling technology and potentially create a new pharmaceuticals market in the UK.
Printed Electronic Packaging
The consortium is investigating methods of creating ‘smart’ pharmaceutical packaging. The Centre for Process Innovation, which is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, and the Institute of Manufacturing at Cambridge University have created project REMEDIES with the aim of improving processes up and down the pharmaceutical supply chain.
Project REMEDIES will focus on five core technology areas:
- Active pharmaceutical manufacturing
- Primary-to-secondary manufacturing
- Super-critical fluid technology
- Agile packaging
- Printed electronics
The consortium – with members including GlaxoSmithKline, Astra Zeneca, the University of Strathclyde, Cambridge Reactor Design, and Robinson Brothers – hopes to address problems with counterfeiting and product tampering, whilst providing information to patients about the status of the drug.
Labelling designed to inform clinicians, patients, and their families of dosage, schedules, expiry-dates and more could reduce the substantial waste in the pharmaceutical sector. Similarly, smart labelling could see success in manufacturing logistics and stock control, helping factories and hospitals produce and order better defined amounts of important products.
How Might It Work?
Smart labels, or tags, are usually an extremely flat preconfigured transponder deployed underneath a traditional print label. The production and usage of smart labels is relatively ordinary, bar the addition of a chip, antennae, and wiring contained in an inlay. They can be printed in a number of methods, the most common of which are:
- Standard ink-jet printing, making an exception for the space containing the inlay
- Standard barcode, or 2D barcode for semi-automatic reading with handheld scanner/phone application
- Writing coherently concatenated information to an RFID/NFC-chip
There are a few types of smart labels:
- Chip: Customised smart labels with chips.
- Printable: Printed smart tags that can collect and process information
- Electronic: Printed electronic smart tags that can signal their status and process information in real-time, as well as some small local memory functions
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and more recently NFC (Near-Field Communication) tags have become increasingly capable of processing more information over minute distances. The technologies are at this stage mature, well understood and under continual development. This presents manufacturers with a widening range of smart label technologies to work with, passing those efficiencies onto customers, or in this case, patients.
Image courtesy of: digitalart / freedigitalphotos.net.