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Biomet Tags Its Orthopedic Knees

The company hopes its pilot RFID project will improve its customer service, reverse logistics and inventory management.
By Jonathan Collins
Jun 09, 2006Orthopedic implants manufacturer Biomet is set to start an RFID-tagging project in Holland. The company believes this will improve service to its customers, as well as its own reverse logistics.

Starting in July, the company's Biomet Europe division will add 13.56 MHz tags to orthopedic knee implant items in five "loaner" sets it already sends to surgeons. Each set contains around 100 parts. By adding an RFID tag to the plastic packaging surrounding each part, the company believes it can better ensure that loaner sets are complete before being shipped, then quickly and correctly checked upon return.

Biomet began trials in 2005, using a tunnel reader and tags from Magellan Technology to deliver 100 percent read rates.

Each set contains all the component implant parts required to replace and repair knees, hips or other joints. One knee operation might use up to 10 separate items. While many items are shipped in a set, only a few modular parts will be used for each particular operation. After the needed parts are selected, the remainder of the set will be returned to Biomet's distribution center in Dordrecht, the Netherlands.

After the parts have been returned to the DC, the company will have to determine which items have been removed from the set in order to invoice correctly for items used. Biomet will then need to replenish the loaner set before sending it out once more.

Currently, all items are identified by means of a bar-coded label attached to an item's packaging. To check for missing items and calculate an invoice, a task worker must scan every barcode—a time-consuming, error-prone process that can take up to 20 minutes. Biomet expects to be able to increase productivity in its warehouse by using RFID to track this consignment stock, as well as improve stock counts, delivery reliability and turnover.

During the trial, replacement items slated to be added to the loaner set will have to be tagged as part of the replenishment process. For this and other reasons, the company says it has not yet studied how much time it could ultimately save by using RFID.

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