Bridging the gap in supply chain standards

If products are not tracked from their place of origin to their point of sale, there is no way of locating when and how product problems occur. Tracking products throughout their journey to their final destination is essential if we are to ensure worldwide supply and demand chains that deliver excellent-quality products. The three-year BRIDGE project received EUR 7.5 million in EU funding to take up this challenge and it delivered exciting new tracking techniques using radio wave technology.

Problems with the transport of goods such as delays, contamination or changes in temperature can mean that products are sometimes damaged or degraded when they arrive at their destination, and perishable goods such as food or pharmaceutical products are particularly vulnerable to this. What is needed is a global system where goods are tracked from point of production to point of sale.

The BRIDGE project ('Building radio frequency identification for the global environment'), the largest of its kind to date, has taken up this challenge by spending three years researching ways to improve the tracking of products in national and international supply and demand chains.

BRIDGE received its funding under theSixth Framework Programme (FP6) to research, develop and demonstrate the benefits of using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), as a way of identifying or tracking objects by using radio waves.

The BRIDGE consortium was coordinated by the Belgian branch of the global standards body GS1, the institution which is working to improve international standards in global supply and demand chains. GS1 is currently the most widely used supply chain standards system in the world. The 29 other partners included universities, user companies, solution providers and four other GS1 organisations.

BRIDGE implemented and trialled a drug product tracking system using the EPC (Electronic Product Code Technology) global network, a joint initiative between GS1 and GS1 US, which has the aim of achieving worldwide standardisation of EPC. The consortium was then able to trace every package from its point of origin to its delivery point at hospitals and pharmacies. Some pallets carrying the medical packages were also fitted with a GPS (Global Positioning System) that uses satellite tracking so they could be traced across international borders and shipping routes.

The structures put in place by BRIDGE are now being used by the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EPFIA)and they are also being considered by the California Food and Drugs Administration in the US as possibly the first globally accepted tracing structure used by the pharmaceutical industry.