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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
Once a hospital places an order, a pick list is issued by the office staff and prepared by warehouse workers. The ordered products are put on tagged pallets and placed on the RFID-enabled conveyor. The reader captures the tag ID numbers and transmits that data to a warehouse PC via a LAN connection, indicating the specific cases and pallets are being shipped. In that way, the tags are used to ensure every order is filled correctly.

The ERP system compares what should have been picked against what actually has been processed, Garcia says. "For each order," he explains, "the system shows its destination, the total number of articles and a list of missing or surplus articles." After the validation is complete, the RFID system automatically moves the conveyor forward to let the pallet off the conveyor.

"The main advantage lies in the reduction in the time taken to read the products during the order validation process," says Garcia, "and in the guarantee that the data on the delivery notes and invoices for a given period is consistent with warehouse stocks."

Garcia says the RFID system has helped the MBA Group reduce reconciliation times between product stocks, and also eliminate annual accounting adjustments due to loss of materials in storage. "These two qualitative criteria alone justified the investment," Garcia says. In addition, he adds, order-preparation time is reduced and the information obtained is more reliable than that resulting from the previous manual method, "enabling us to process more orders with the same personnel and eliminating order errors."

According to Garcia, the company is still working on additional challenges, including how to use the system with products that have been returned to the warehouse—for instance, when customers receive MBA Group products for surgical procedures but ultimately do not use them. Within the next few months, MBA Group intends to test the RFID system at three of its distribution centers in the north of Spain. It then plans to extend the system to the remainder of its distribution centers throughout Spain and Portugal in 2008.

The third phase of the deployment will cover the warehouses of MBA Group's 23 divisions throughout Spain, Italy and Portugal. The group also intends to provide its customers with Intermec IP4 handheld RFID readers. "This," Garcia says, "will enable MBA to track product stock levels in the hospitals, as well as the expiration dates of sterile products."

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