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MEMS the Word

MEMs tags will provide health-care organizations a more effective and accurate way to track and count instruments.
By Beth Bacheldor
Apr 01, 2007—MEMS—micro-electro-mechanical systems smaller than microscopic dust mites—have been used for several decades in everything from inkjet printers to accelerometers that deploy air bags in cars. Now, Australian startup Mems-ID is using MEMS technology to create a low-cost RFID tag for tracking surgical instruments.

Mems-ID's RFID tags, which are about the size of a pinhead, can be affixed to surgical devices and withstand—as well as record via temperature sensing—sterilization processes. The company says the tags will provide health-care organizations with a more effective and accurate way to track and count instruments.

"The ultimate goal for this kind of application is in infection control," says Mems-ID CEO Fraser Clayton. "The medical industry has not had a satisfactory solution for this. We found the market need and then went away and invented the technology that will fulfill the application."

Most RFID tags use integrated circuit (IC) technology, which makes the tags relatively expensive (ranging from 8 cents a tag to more than 20 cents, which gets pricey when you start tagging individual items); the electrical components are also sensitive to damage, says Clayton. In addition, IC-based RFID tags can be damaged by high temperatures and gamma radiation, two basic sterilization techniques. Other RFID tags that use different technologies, including those from RFSAW and AdvantaPure, can withstand sterilization techniques, but Clayton says they are more expensive and designed to track different assets and components.

A MEMS RFID tag contains micromechanical components that are expected to be rugged and easier to produce and could be attached directly to medical devices. In addition, a MEMS RFID tag can withstand exposure to wide temperature ranges and gamma radiation. The Mems-ID tags are read using a proprietary air-interface protocol, but operate as high-frequency tags in the 13.56 MHz range.

Mems-ID, a privately held company that's raised more than $1.3 million in two rounds of funding from investors including several health-care professionals, should have beta MEMS RFID tags out by the end of March. It expects to begin demonstrating the tags and accompanying readers in mid-June on orthopedics implants, which are shipped with loaner toolkits and contain hundreds of pieces. Each piece has to be manually counted at the distribution center, when the hospital receives them, at the operating room, when they are cleaned and sterilized, and before they are shipped back to the manufacturer. "The current practice is to manually count the pieces against a paper checklist," says Clayton. "That is very slow and very labor intensive."

Mems-ID will target the health-care industry, but the company says its RFID tags will appeal to any organization that needs a tag that can withstand sterilization, such as food-processing, chemical and pharmaceutical companies.
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