Tego Inc., a provider of high memory tags and smart asset solutions, is in the process of piloting its RFID tags in garments used in medical environments like clean rooms and research labs. While RFID has been used with laundry solutions for years, the catch with this application is that the garments must be sterilized with each cleaning.
A systems integrator, working in concert with a well-known garment supplier, is testing Tego’s radiation-proof tags to see how many times they can undergo sterilization treatments before losing their ability to be read. The customer has set its goals high and hopes to have each tag survive 40 wash cycles.
The pilot is part of Tego’s new emphasis to put its rugged and radiation-proof tags to work in the life sciences sector. Tego broke into the high memory tag market with a strong business case in the aerospace industry.
Gary Lerner, recently hired as Tego’s vice president of market development, expects the pilot to run 10 to 15 weeks. Tego should have documentation back from its customer by the end of October.
“They are shooting for a very high number of cycles which represents a lot of radiation doses, but there is a definite ROI from not having to handle these garments that all look alike,” says Lerner.
“They are stitching tags into each shipment of garments that arrive for cleaning. The tags follow the garments and receive the same level of exposure to radiation that the garments see during cleaning. They then read the tags, verify that the chips are still readable, and keep track of the number of cleaning cycles.”
By using high memory tags, those responsible for cleaning and sterilizing the garments can write cleaning history and radiation documentation directly to the tag, allowing the user to quickly view the garment history.
Tego sees numerous business cases for its tags within the life sciences sector. Another sterilization application is the re-usable containers that transport medical supplies like organs and other supplies that must be transported in sterilized containers.
Tego is also targeting manufacturers of medical implants like knees and hips. When a surgical team begins a procedure to replace a hip or knee, or an operation like a double back fusion, doctors typically don’t know the exact size of screws needed until they are in the middle of the procedure. Medical imaging tests like MRIs can give a size range, but not an exact measurement.
Surgeons rely on parts kits supplied by medical manufacturers to have all the sizes they need to complete the surgery.
“The medical device manufacturers have this kit of surgical implant tools available on consignment,” says Lerner. “The surgeon uses what they need during surgery and the rest gets returned to inventory.”
RFID offers several key benefits for this type of application. For starters, RFID tags can assign a unique identifier to each part and guarantee that parts of all sizes are shipped in the kit. “You just can’t be out of inventory for any of these parts while you’re in the middle of a surgery,” says Lerner.
When a kit comes back to the warehouse, medical suppliers can precisely identify what parts have been used and bill accordingly. By scanning the kit, RFID can also greatly speed up the inventory replenishment process so that kits can be sent out again.
“All of this has to happen in a very short period of time,” says Lerner. “So having the ability to use a high memory tag like ours to keep track of the contents of the kit, as well as the fact that the tag can be sterilized, provides medical device suppliers a huge advantage.”