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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.
The system proved effective, Nolan says, and EV3 quickly rolled the system out across the United States, tagging all of the stock, and equipping and training all of its salespeople. At the manufacturer's main distribution center, employees manually attach an RFID label to the outside packaging of each medical device the company sells, then use the handheld to read the tag's ID number. The tag ID is then associated with that specific type of medical device and uploaded to the proprietary software.
After being tagged, the devices are sent to one of three locations: EV3's distribution center; its customers (hospitals), which receive the goods on consignment; or what is known as "trunk stock," which is placed in a portable case that the field staff bring with them when visiting customer locations (and for device support during surgery, as noted above). The field staff use the handhelds to perform inventory on both the trunk and consignment stock, and warehouse workers utilize them to track the devices as they are shipped out for consignment or trunk stock, and again when placing them into stock at the DC.
Later this month, EV3 expects to begin moving the tagging of devices back to the point of manufacture, which the company says will provide an added level of visibility to the RFID-based system. The unique ID number of the tag attached to each device will be captured as it leaves the manufacturing facility, then read at the point of receipt at the DC, and so forth. The EV3 software will store all of this tracking data and link it to EV3's enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, where it can be associated with customer or production orders, as well as shipping records. In the past, the company has employed bar codes to track the devices as they are shipped from the point of production to the DC.
Aside from saving EV3's field staff valuable time, Nolan says, the RFID system has also increased the inventory accuracy of the company's consignment and trunk stock, resulting in fewer inventory write-offs. The next move on the horizon, he notes, will be to begin using the RFID tagging and tracking system for the manufacturer's European operations, based out of a distribution center in the Netherlands.
While the RFID system currently provides a competitive advantage, Nolan thinks that using the technology for tracking the medical devices it sells will ultimately become a way of doing business across the industry. "There is some consolidation going on in the industry," he states, "and some of our customers are making RFID-traceability a requirement for medical device suppliers."
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