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Johnson & Johnson Finds Value in Multiple RFID Apps

The health-care product manufacturer provides insights into some of its RFID deployments, such as tracking orthopedic components and monitoring promotional products and displays.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Apr 23, 2008Health-care products giant Johnson & Johnson is using RFID technology for a wide range of applications, according to Mike Rose, the company's VP of RFID EPC global value chain. Addressing attendees at last week's RFID Journal LIVE! 2008 conference in Las Vegas, Rose said Johnson & Johnson uses RFID to comply with retailer mandates that certain products be shipped with RFID tags attached at the case and pallet level. The company has also conducted tests, however, in which RFID tags are used to track promotional product displays at RFID-enabled retail locations, and is employing the technology to manage surgical implants.

The company is "a microcosm of the health-care industry," Rose told the audience. "We [are comprised of] biotechnology companies, we have consumer brands and we make surgical devices." Rose works for J&J's Health Care Systems division, which develops products and services—everything from managing customer relationships to deploying supply chain solutions—on behalf of the firm's Medicines, Nutritionals, Medical Devices and Diagnostics sectors.

Mike Rose
Based on an RFID pilot it carried out with an unnamed retailer, Johnson & Johnson found that 79 percent of its promotional products were actually placed on the store's sales floors too early. The firm also found that stores complying with its promotional schedule saw increased incremental sales over those that did not. A number of product suppliers are deriving benefits from employing RFID to track promotional items and displays at retail stores (see P&G Finds RFID 'Sweet Spot', OATSystems Launches Solutions for Tracking In-Store Product Promotions and Maternity Apparel Maker to Deploy Smart Displays in Stores). "There is a quite a bit of opportunity here," Rose said.

In addition, Rose was involved in a recent RFID deployment by DePuy, a Johnson & Johnson company that produces implants and orthopedic devices. The firm wanted to find a way of making its supply chain more efficient—specifically the business process it uses to inventory what it calls Express Care kits. Such kits are collections of orthopedic knee or hip replacement parts containing up to 25 separate components.

"In the operating room, a surgeon won't know which size implant he needs until the surgery is in progress," Rose explained. For this reason, the kit provides the doctor a selection of implants of varying sizes. After the surgeon chooses the appropriate implant, the kit, minus the device used, is returned to DePuy. Employees previously had to scan the bar code of each component in a returned kit to determine which implant was missing, then replace the missing implant, verify that the kit was complete and prepare it to be shipped out again. DePuy receives more than 600 used kits daily, and must ship out the same number of complete kits each day as well.

DePuy worked with RFID systems integrator ODIN Technologies to develop a better process. ODIN tested a number of UHF EPC Gen 2 passive RFID tags and found that UPM Raflatac's DogBone tag (named after its antenna design) was the best-performing in terms of readability when placed on the packaging in which a particular implant is stored within the kit. Each implant is located in a sterile, vacuum-sealed plastic bag that is then placed into a larger package, and the self-adhesive tag is attached to that package. The titanium and cobalt chrome materials used in the joint replacements could create interferences to the radio frequency signals used to read passive RFID tags, but the DogBone tag is designed to work well in the presence of metal.

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