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MBA Group Finds RFID Improves Shipment Accuracy

The distributor of medical supplies is tagging and tracking cartons of goods, enabling it to reduce order-preparation time and eliminate errors.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 06, 2007MBA Group distributes medical devices and supplies related to orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, cardiovascular surgery and anesthesia, to private and public hospitals in Spain, Italy and Portugal. In the past, workers at the company's central warehouses in Spain had to manually check the contents of each container it shipped to customers before that container left the site. The process could be time-consuming and potentially allow errors to slip through. Now the medical products supplier is using radio frequency identification to automate that process and improve the accuracy of its orders.

The RFID deployment began with a proof-of-concept phase that lasted from April to June 2006, says Miguel Garcia, commercial director at BC Biocon, an IT services division of MBA. BC Biocon developed the RFID program, known as "q2dc"—an acronym for "quién, qué, dónde y cuándo" (who, what, where and when)—which was integrated with MBA's existing ERP system. At that time, the study was based on a few of the more than 5,700 products MBA offers.

Following that phase, permanent installation of the system began in May 2007. The first task, Garcia says, consisted of labeling every product already in stock, as well as the new products being received from different suppliers—200,000 units altogether—with EPC Gen 2 RFID labels from UPM Raflatac. Thus far, says Marcus Vaenerberg, UPM Raflatac's VP of RFID sales, MBA has purchased a total of 300,000 RFID labels.

Once the majority of items were affixed with the RFID labels, BC Biocon installed an Intermec IF5 reader in the warehouse, attached to a conveyor surrounded by four RFID interrogator antennas. It then used software it developed to integrate the reader into MBA's back-end ERP system. "The system has been processing the orders served from the central warehouse since mid-October," Garcia explains.

When a shipment arrives from a supplier, MBA warehouse personnel manually compare that supplier's delivery paperwork with the product itself. The workers input the serial and batch numbers of each product into the company's ERP system and encode a unique Electronic Product Code (EPC) number onto the label's embedded tag, while a Toshiba printer prints the product's bar code, MBA's logo and other related text on the label's surface. The RFID label is attached to the product's carton, which is placed on the conveyor and transported past the RFID interrogator antennas. The tag's unique RFID number is read and linked with the product's data, and the tagged carton is then stored on a shelf until it is needed to fill an order from a hospital.

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