If you have ever had trouble using the self serve checkout at a grocery store, you might understand why GlaxoSmithKline Inc. uses radiofrequency identification at its Mississauga, Ont. manufacturing plant.
GSK, which makes drugs to treat cancer, depression, diabetes, asthma, HIV and other disorders, sells $1 billion worth of pharmaceuticals in Canada alone, said Ray Jarvis, a GSK IT project manager and engineer. From the early 90s until 2007, the company used a 15-year-old DS21A bar code system made by Datalogic S.p.A. of Bologna, Italy.
But the bar code readers often misread the codes.
“Even the best bar coding system in the world is not going to read through Saran wrap,” said Jarvis, who spoke to an audience of about 75 at the recent RFID Seminar, hosted by the Information Technology Association of Canada.
Before it installed RFID, the GSK plant had to halt production about 200 times a month due to a bar code reading error. Now it doesn’t have to stop production more than twice a month.
The consequences of stopping production
“When we call for a pallet to be put into the system, the pallet is scanned, the crane comes along, picks it up, the crane scans it again,” he said. “If for some reason the crane can’t read that bar code properly, it stops dead. An operator has to go out there and figure out what the problem is.”
Although GSK switched over to RFID to save labour costs, the down time caused major problems. This is because, unlike simpler manufacturing plants, GlaxoSmithKline has a vertical layout, making up to 30 different products in small runs. Once raw materials are mixed, they must be compressed and packaged within a certain period of time.
“We have to have 100 per cent uptime, or as close to that as possible,” Jarvis said.
Another advantage of RFID is the speed with which readers can process information.
GO Transit, which provides commuter train and bus service in suburban Toronto, is set to use Presto, an RFID-based fare payment system, which the Government of Ontario wants to extend to other transit authorities.
“Today you have to put your hand in your pocket and find your tickets or cash,” said David Smith, director of program services for the Presto System Project. “With the card, I can keep it in my wallet and tap my wallet or even put my bag against a reader. It’s a significant advantage in the Canadian winter. You don’t have to take your gloves and mitts off. You see some very experienced customers, they have their wallet in their (pocket), they put their derriere against a reader and away they go.”
Paying bus fare without cash, tickets or monthly passes
Presto plans to start a field trials with some GO train stations next September. It plans to eventually have the system in place with OC Transpo, Ottawa’s city bus service, plus some suburban Toronto systems. Smith said the organization, which includes the Ministry of Transportation and GO Transit, is waiting to hear back from the Toronto Transit Commission on whether it plans to participate.
“We’re in discussions with other transit agencies in Ontario,” he said. “Once you build a platform, it’s very easy to expand that.”
Instead of having each transit agency buy its own equipment, all would standardize on the MiFARE DesFire 4 cards, made by NXP Semiconductors. Smith said these cards comply with ISO’s 14443A 1-4 standard and can be read from 6 cm.
Making Canadian passports more secure
RFID is also being used in Canadian diplomatic passports, said Leslie Crone, director of international programs at Passport Canada. By 2011, she said, Canada plans to have ePassports in place, which would let customs officers verify passport information using RFID readers, in order to defeat counterfeiters. The ePassport standard is stipulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Security concerns over these passports are overblown, conference speakers suggested.
Catherine Johnson, president and CEO of ACT Canada, showed a Youtube video on RFID security during her presentation on RFID privacy.
In the video, a British hacker claims he can clone American passports using a Motorola Symbol XR400 RFID Reader, connected to a laptop in the front seat of his car. He shows the RFID tags the reader can see, and claims three were passport cards, though one is the cards actually belongs to his boss.
The hacker said we should not have any identification documents with RFID in them, and his goal is to “see the entire Western hemisphere travel initiative just .. be scrapped.”
Addressing privacy concerns
Johnston disputed the video’s claim that ePassports are insecure, because, she said, they do not use the same technology as enhanced drivers licenses (EDLs) a U.S. Department of Homeland Security program. EDL is intended as a piece of identification harder to counterfeit than regular licenses, which Americans travelling without passports can use to re-enter the U.S.
She stressed the RFID that companies like GSK use to scan pallets is not the same as the RFID used for ePassports.
You see some very experienced customers, they have their wallet in their (pocket), they put their derriere against a reader and away they go.David Smith>Text
“Would we switch the technologies and standards that are used for those two? No we wouldn’t,” Johnston said. “They were both chosen because they met the needs for the application. “
She added EDLs are a concern because they can be read from 100 feet.
“The new variation that’s in the labs is (readable from) close to 300 feet away,” she said. “This is not in the interest of anyone.”
By contrast, Crone said, the ePassport chips must be read within 10 centimetres, which “makes eavesdropping practically impossible.”
She added the documents will have two additional security features: biometric data, such as fingerprints or iris scans, and public key infrastructure.
“Even if you can read it you have to check the PKI,” she said. “You have to be sure that it was in fact the country that issued the document.”