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Med Distributor Converts to Gen2 RFID for Item Tracking

MBA Grupo, a leading Spanish medical products distributor, is converting its warehouse facilities to track all items with Gen2 RFID. The company is capturing product serial numbers and expiration dates during shipping and receiving, and plans to extend RFID reading to its hospital customers for stock management.
Sep 05, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

September 5, 2007—A Spanish medical products distributor is equipping its warehouses to track all the products it handles by RFID. MBA Grupo, which distributes orthopedic supplies primarily to hospitals in Spain, Italy, and Portugal, is expected to tag between one and two million individual items annually, Marcus Vaenerberg of tag supplier UPM Raflatac told RFID Update.

MBA Grupo has installed reader gates at its main warehouse in Asturias, Spain. The company has firm plans to add RFID infrastructure at warehouses for all 23 of its subsidiaries and eventually to the hospitals it supplies. MBA Grupo provides products related to orthopedic and cardiovascular surgery, neurosurgery, and anesthesia.

"MBA will continue to use bar codes at the start, but total replacement [with RFID] is the final target," according to Vaenerberg.

The warehouse portal readers are used for automated shipping, receiving, and inventory management operations. They capture encoded serial numbers and expiration dates on each individual product that is dispatched to customers. MBA Grupo creates its own RFID labels, which for now also include bar code and text, using a Toshiba TEC smart label printer/encoder and EPCglobal Gen2-standard label stock, which UPM Raflatac provides.

Next up for MBA Grupo is installing RFID readers at its other warehouses, followed by equipping hospitals with handheld RFID readers from Intermec for stock management applications. The company hopes to have these next two phases completed by the end of this year, according to UPM Raflatac's announcement.

MBA Grupo, which has annual turnover of 102 million euros, moved forward with plans to replace its bar code infrastructure with RFID after completing a proof-of-concept pilot that showed RFID could successfully identify its complete product line and different packaging materials. The testing covered 48 product groups and more than 300,000 items, according to UPM Raflatac.

The pharmaceutical, healthcare, food, and other industries are increasingly looking to RFID to provide pedigrees, improve traceability, and comply with emerging and existing tracking regulations. However, Vaenerberg said MBA Grupo developed its system solely for internal benefits, not to meet any regulatory requirements.

"The target is increased efficiency," he said. Monitoring hospital inventories of sterile products with expiration dates is a key application.

The announcement of MBA Grupo's plans adds to the recent momentum behind UHF Gen2 technology for item-level tagging applications. Last month Levi Strauss, Lemmi, and Throttleman announced separate Gen2-based item tagging applications in the apparel industry (see TAGSYS Announces Two Apparel RFID Deployments and Kids Clothes Firm Outgrows HF, Puts on Gen2).

However, the UHF versus HF debate is still far from resolved, at least in the pharmaceutical industry. Earlier this year, Pfizer made positive but inconclusive comments about Gen2's suitability for drug tracking (see Pfizer Manager Discusses the Viagra RFID Pilot). And last month, U.S. orthopedic supply distributor Zimmer announced an RFID tracking system similar to MBA Grupo's, but using HF technology (see RFID Ensures Surgeons Have No Bones to Pick with Supplier). More pharmaceutical industry news will likely come out of the LogiPharma conference and exhibition that will be held September 17 through 19 in Philadelphia.
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