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RFID Ensures Surgeons Have No Bones to Pick with Supplier

Artificial knee joints and other replacement orthopedic products come in kits that contain dozens of components, many of which go unused during the surgery. Orthopedic manufacturer Zimmer is using RFID to ensure the right components are included in kits, and that they are identified and sorted correctly when returned.
Aug 02, 2007This article was originally published by RFID Update.

August 2, 2007—Incredible as it may seem, when surgeons perform joint replacements there are often parts left over. No, not because they don't know that the leg bone is connected to the knee bone. It's because the kits containing sterile orthopedic implants include all the components the surgeon might possibly need to complete the operation. Many of the 100 to 150 components typically packed in a kit go unused and can be returned. Zimmer, a leading designer and producer of orthopedic surgical products, now uses RFID to track its returns with surgical precision. Zimmer also uses the system to verify that the correct components are packed for each shipment.

"We use a box tag which, when read in conjunction with the implant package tags, enables us to get a box content report," Michael Schaffler of Zimmer told RFID Update. "An order, or kit, may extend across multiple boxes and shippers. The box tag allows the contents of each box to be recorded."

Zimmer is using high frequency (HF) RFID technology from Magellan Technology to identify returns, and to verify the accuracy of orthopedic components when they are picked, kitted, and shipped. Picking, kitting, and shipping must be error free to ensure patients get exactly the items they need. Zimmer turned to RFID for these operations because it was extremely time consuming to scan bar codes on the dozens of items that make up each kit.

"Magellan's technology has significantly improved the reliability, accuracy, and speed of our processes," Schaffler said in Magellan's announcement. "After a fast rollout and a few months of operations we are already experiencing more than four percent savings in inventory due to faster inventory turns."

The system has been installed in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and Thailand. All systems use Magellan's fixed-position tunnel readers and StackTag tags, which are applied to packaging and are never embedded into patients. Zimmer has used more than 1.5 million tags already.

Magellan Technology develops RFID technology that is fundamentally different than most HF products on the market. Magellan's systems use the phase jitter modulation (PJM) technique to alter radio waves for communication, rather than the much more common amplitude shift key (ASK) method. PJM is standardized (ISO 18000-3.2, or "Mode 2") but is not interoperable with standardized ASK-based HF technology (ISO 18000-3.1, or "Mode 1").

PJM produces faster read rates than ASK-based high frequency systems. Magellan says PJM provides more accuracy when tags are stacked or densely grouped, which is the case for Zimmer's orthopedic kits that include multiple tagged components.

Schaffler said the speed and accuracy set Magellan's products apart from others that Zimmer evaluated. "This was important, as our return goods are often not well packed, and the reader had to cope with tags in multiple orientations."

RFID smart label printer/encoder manufacturer and label supplier Zebra Technologies licensed Magellan's PJM technology about a year ago (see Zebra Buys $10m in RFID Intellectual Property) but has not yet released any PJM products.
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