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EV3 Uses RFID to Streamline Inventory

The medical device maker has realized important business benefits by employing RFID to track its stock of stents and other products used for treating vascular diseases.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 15, 2008EV3, a manufacturer of stents and other medical devices used by vascular surgeons, doesn't just hire salespeople to sell its wares. It employs highly trained experts.

"Our sales representatives go into the operating room with a surgeon—they get scrubbed and gowned—and they are there to support the medical staff," says John Nolan, EV3's VP of global supply chain. "They recommend which [EV3] device to use, and how to use the device." Given the high level of expertise and training its reps receive, having them spend many hours each quarter performing physical inventory-counting of EV3's stock at the hospitals they serve makes little sense. Therefore, the company turned to RFID.

In the third quarter of 2007, EV3, based in Plymouth, Minn., began working with WaveMark, a provider of RFID-based inventory management solutions for the health-care industry, to develop a means of automating its inventory systems—not only for its field staff, but also for workers at its main distribution center, located in Brooklyn Park, Minn.

"We knew that some of our competition had its staff scan the bar codes [on device packaging] using handheld devices in the field," Nolan says, "but we felt that that was old technology, and we wanted to leap-frog the competition." The use of RFID tags, he adds, is faster and more accurate than conducting physical counts.

The WaveMark solution consists of proprietary software and high-frequency (HF) handheld RFID interrogators made by Feig Electronic to collect data from 13.56 MHz passive HF tags manufactured by UPM Raflatac. To begin testing, EV3 placed the tags—which comply with the ISO 15693 standard—on select field stock. Some of the company's sales team were trained on how to use the handheld devices to read the tags and transmit the data to the WaveMark software, which compiles the data collected by all of the sales reps into a central repository.

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