RFID is changing the way that retailers do business by improving inventory accuracy and allowing for innovative new consumer engagement tools.
There is a similar storyline developing in healthcare, where RFID technology is behind some game-changing new solutions.
Take the case of Endologix, which last year rolled out a new way to treat abdominal aortic aneurysms. The company’s Endologix Nellix® EndoVascular Aneurysm Sealing System relies on a frozen supply chain to ensure its effectiveness. As part of a broadening of its commercial roll out of the new technology, the company wanted to find an RFID-based solution to protect the product as it travels through the supply chain.
Endologix turned to an RFID-enhanced freezer cabinet from Terso Solutions. The company is deploying the freezers at high volume hospital clients throughout Europe, including locations in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and New Zealand.
In addition to ensuring that the proprietary polymer used in the Nellix procedure is stored at proper temperatures, the RFID freezer solution also manages access to the polymer and automates the supply and refill process.
“Our Nellix platform is an exciting new product, and has created a whole new category for sealing aneurysms and provides clinicians a new option to help patients,” says Todd Abraham, vice president of operations at Endologix.
“Protecting the polymer through the frozen cold chain is critical to the performance of the product. As we ramp up volumes we want to make sure that we can properly manage polymer in the field, and passive RFID is an ideal technology.”
Nellix EVAS has obtained CE Mark in the EU but is only approved as an investigational device in the U.S. Regulatory approvals are pending in additional geographies.
Abraham would not reveal the cost of the polymer used in the Nellix platform, saying only “to lose polymer is very meaningful.”
The polymer that is part of the Nellix system requires cold storage until about 30 minutes before it is ready to use. The RFID freezer technology reports the status of the polymer units to Endologix in real time, making transactions, inventory usage, temperature reporting, and expiration dates transparent, automatically tracked, and available to both Endologix and users at hospitals and clinics in a secure, web-based interface.
Endologix is able to track when product was first placed into the freezer, who opened the freezer, how much product was removed, and the environmental conditions inside the freezer. If temperature varies from the recommended range, Terso’s software program issues alerts to staff at the hospital or clinic.
“We can avoid freezers falling out of temperature and creating a perishable challenge with the polymer,” says Abraham.
RFID tags from Avery Dennison are applied to the packaging at the Endologix manufacturing facility in California. In some cases, tags are affixed at its distribution center in Europe. Eventually, all tagging will occur at the point of manufacture in the U.S.
The other major benefit of tagging is that by lowering the possibility of losing polymer in the field, potential supply issues are minimized.
“We’re scaling capacity so we don’t want to lose polymer because we don’t want to impact supply,” says Abraham. “Clinicians count on us to provide this life saving technology.”
Eventually, Endologix expects major operational efficiencies from RFID once the solution is expanded to the U.S. and other global markets.
“The scale is not significant yet to identify hard core savings, but it’s more about what it will look like downstream at much higher volumes,” says Abraham. “RFID is going to automate the entire inventory management process. My sales reps won’t have to count it, and I won’t have to reconcile consignment with customers. When they dip below PAR levels the system will automatically kicks out a replenishment order and it gets filled.
“Looking ahead, we know the operational efficiencies will be significant.”
Abraham sees the day when Endologix uses RFID for other products it produces and everything is tagged.
“I’m going to want to have RFID on everything, including all of my field inventory, my consignment, and trunk stock with sales reps and polymers in refrigerators,” he says. “I’m a big believer that RFID is a great technology, especially for higher end and implantable devices like heart valves or AAA graphs where serialized traceability is really important.”
Abdominal aortic aneurysms are a weakening of the wall of the aorta, the largest artery in the body, resulting in a balloon-like enlargement. Once AAA develops, it continues to enlarge. If left untreated, it is increasingly susceptible to rupture. The overall patient mortality rate for ruptured AAA is approximately 80 percent, making it a leading cause of death in the U.S.