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

RFID

I also spoke with Hooker’s colleague, Josh Cannon, Marketing Strategy Director, Global Strategy, Healthcare Logistics. Like many experts, Cannon predicts that UDI will have a wide-reaching impact on orthopaedics. Specifically, he believes that radio frequency identification (RFID) technology will see a significant uptick in usage. It’s also another example of a technology that other industries have embraced, but orthopaedics has mostly left sitting on the shelf.

“To me, RFID is something that the retail industry has embraced but medical technology has not yet. I think that’s the next evolution,” he said.

Cannon noted numerous ways that companies can and are utilizing RFID.

“You see manufacturers put it on the head of every screw, which is expensive. We do it by tray level. I’ve seen providers actually RFID the bag. It’s very interesting,” he said.

Cannon added that he believes UDI will have a positive impact on orthopaedics overall.

“You can make decisions based on two things: good data and good visibility. If you have good data, good visibility and provide that data to all of your key stakeholders (providers, 3PLs, service reps), give them complete visibility, then the supply chain can make decisions,” he said.

Automation

Two separate third-party logistics providers (3PLs) said that automation is changing supply chain management for all industries, and will have an impact on orthopaedics sooner or later. As futuristic as some of the technology sounds, Steve Downey, Senior Vice President, Healthcare for OHL, said that automation of all kinds is already in use with some hospitals and OEMs.

“Robots are in use in warehouses, in-hospital delivery and now even drone delivery. That automation will become more accessible in cost and programming, allowing for wider access to it,” he said. “Driverless vehicles will be great at delivering supplies around a hospital network, or from an orthopaedic supplier’s local depot to its customers, without a representative being involved.”

Echoing Downey’s sentiments, Chris Franzen, Vice President, Sales & Operations for Shipware, said that robotics and automation are game changing technologies that will become de rigueur in the next ten to 15 years. He also said there are many wrinkles yet to be ironed out.

With drones, for instance, Franzen allows that they could provide faster delivery, fewer accidents and less impact on crowded streets and highways.

However, questions linger about their use moving forward.

“There are concerns with air traffic constraints, drone regulation, privacy issues,” he said.

He did, however, say that autonomous trucks could greatly reduce the stress from insurance costs, driver shortages and the high cost of training. While that technology is still in its infancy, Franzen pointed out that some of its forebears are already in the market for consumer-sized vehicles, like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and self-parking (i.e. cars that parallel park for you).

Conclusion

While many of the technologies discussed have been around for years, it seems that OEMs are just starting to experiment with their usage or fully leverage their capabilities. Additionally, the advent of new regulations (like UDI) and new shipping requirements (like cold chain) have caused an increased need for equipment and data that can better track inventory. One of the expressions that I heard over and over again from attendees was, “My company is at a tipping point,” or “We’re coming to a tipping point.”

Many of these OEMs feel that they are now in the crosshairs of cost-cutting measurements, or will be soon, so now is the time to explore, investigate and implement new technologies to gain better control of inventory visibility—or to explore new distribution models, perhaps utilizing 3PLs and Forward Stocking Locations.


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