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Supply Chain Experts Recommend Adoption of GPS, RFID, New Technologies

This was my first year attending LogiMed, a conference for supply chain experts in the medical device field, and I found the sessions to be focused and the dialogue around the event informative. I discovered that many companies, regardless of segment and size, were battling the same woes—increased scrutiny, consignment, visibility, data that hadn’t been properly utilized. 

Many of the topics were common refrains from the last few years, according to several of the attendees I spoke to. Several experts said that they had been hearing about the same obstacles for years and years. Jerry Brown, Vice President of Global Supply Chain for X-spine Systems, part of Xtant Medical, expressed surprise that the segment had not evolved further.

“It’s amazing that we’ve been so blind for so long. We just build a bunch of stuff and throw it out there and we hope something sells,” he said. “When you need to put your hands on your inventory, often you don’t know exactly where it is in the world.”

GPS

Brown and I broke away from the conference to discuss some of the technologies with which X-spine has had success. Specifically, he made reference to an older technology he’d used at previous orthopaedic companies, which X-spine has begun to utilize more fully.

“I’ve had good luck with GPS technology, believe it or not; particularly with large assets that are rolling around in cases or carts,” he said. “Slap a GPS tracker on that and it’s a game changer to know where it is. I’ve had experience with this on a company’s largest revision knee surgery set, it was like eight rolling cases on wheels.”

That technology gives Brown and his team more visibility on their inventory. That, in turn, helps free up time throughout the chain.

For Brown’s team, a key aspect of adding the GPS tracker was communication with the sales rep. “Previously, the sales rep would have to sit around waiting all morning for the set to be delivered. Now the rep gets an email when the GPS tracker crosses the geo-fence of the hospital,” he said. “It takes fifteen minutes to run to the hospital, check the device in and get it to where it needs to be.”
I spoke with other experts at the conference about the trends and technology they see pushing the supply chain segment forward.

Cold Chain

Robin Hooker is UPS’ Director, Healthcare Marketing. He said the evolution of orthobiologics, and their integration into other segments, could create new needs for the orthopaedic supply chain, specifically for cold chain, or temperature-controlled shipping for equipment or goods that must be stored and transported within a particular temperature-range. That means storage locations and shipping vehicles must provide the ability to control temperature in a specific range.

Hooker points out that having more cold chain technology could create brand new obstacles, like managing temperature within trucks, but the rise of cold chain would also create more opportunities for connectivity and better collaboration.

“At the same time, that means more risk mitigation and higher value. You could dramatically increase the cost of implants when they’re infused with something that is not frozen and not ambient, but must be maintained in a two to eight degree temperature range,” he said. “That can be complex, because you have a high/low bandwidth and there’s not a lot of room in between. If there’s an excursion above or below…we’re all familiar with implant recall commercials and things that have gone wrong.”

To demonstrate the complexity of cold chain logistics, Hooker added that the trend could even complicate what UPS does.

“A secure cold chain could complicate some of our Forward Stocking Location (FSL) network processes as well, if that’s the look of implants in the future. We may have a different model for temperature sensitive implant processes as well. It’s definitely an area that’s in flux,” he said.

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