RFID Arena



When Barcelona-based Aifos Solutions was tasked with developing a new RFID-based blood products tracking system for Spain’s Balearic Islands Blood and Tissue Bank (FBSTIB), they turned to Nordic ID for readers that operate in subarctic temperatures.


Barcode technology has proven less than optimal for FBSTIB staff at the organization's processing center on the island of Mallorca. It has meant unpacking entire crates of frozen blood bags and scanning or reading each bag in turn-no small task with 30,000 bags packed 80 to a crate…in a deep freezer with an average temperature of -35°C (-31F). Finding the right bag can take so long that staff members  often take crates out of the deep freezer to search for the right bag, putting plasma in jeopardy of thawing.

Blood extracted from donors at any of several mobile units in the Balearic Islands follows a complicated journey, each step of which needs to be tracked to ensure that red blood cells, plasma or platelets reach the right patient in perfect condition. Blood is first put through a series of tests at FBSTIB's processing center in Palma de Mallorca. Next, whole blood is separated into plasma, red blood cells or platelets, which are stored either in a deep freezer, a refrigeration unit or, in the case of platelets, in an agitator. Then, when a hospital sends over blood parameters, the blood bank has to respond and manage its scarce resources to satisfy demands as quickly as possible.

"The deep freezer is most problematic for barcode scanning," says Esteve Jané, Aifos Solutions' COO."Frost buildup and wrinkled labels make an already slow barcode scanning process more difficult."

Each bag is tagged with up to six barcodes as it passes through the stages of its journey. These all need to be scanned at each step, and all key data also needs to be readable as text printed on the labels, in keeping with the International Society of Blood Transfusion 128 standard.


To make the blood tracking and location process faster, safer and more transparent, FBSTIB chose Aifos Solutions, a Barcelona-based RFID systems specialist, to help them move from barcode to RFID. Aifos in turn selected Alien Technologies' Generation 2 RFID chip for tags and Nordic ID PL 3000 UHF RFID mobile computers, used to find the blood bags that staff members need.

The new RFID tags will shortcut the contact scanning and visual reading process by storing all information-including a record of ambient temperature over time-on each bag's re-recordable 512-bit RFID tag. Equipped with Nordic ID mobile computers, staff members are able to quickly find blood bags in a fast-paced, frenetic environment by scanning up to 400 bags per second and drilling down to see all the information associated with any bag.

The total system consists of three parts. The first consists of fixed RFID scanners installed at the entrances of freezers and storage rooms that record what blood products are put into and taken out of storage. These installed scanners are integrated with the FBSTIB's blood data bank, ensuring total accuracy in asset tracking.

The second part involves Nordic ID PL3000 UHF RFID mobile computers, used to find the blood bags that staff members  need; and the third part is the tags that contain a re-recordable Generation 2 RFID chip that permits addition of data at each step in a blood bag's process.

"The system we have developed promises to pay for itself very quickly in reduced operating costs once the full program launches in August 2010," notes Jané. "It will also significantly increase safety," he adds, "because donor ID cannot be erased, and other memory banks can only be accessed by those with the correct passwords. So the information on a tag is complete, and  depending on your level of authorization, you can read or modify only certain levels of it."

As well as increasing safety, the RFID system will help make better use of short-lived blood product resources. Today, if a 30-day old bag is requested, staff members  may send a 28-day old bag that fits the description in order to end their search more quickly, increasing the chance that the 30-day old blood will expire before it is used. But with the RFID system in place, inventory will be tracked in a transparent fashion, expediting the process and ensuring that the optimal blood bag is quickly found and put to use.


Working with Nordic ID is a new relationship for Aifos, one the company chose based on equipment tests, but also for strategic reasons. "To tell you the truth, one of the reasons we chose Nordic ID is because they are Finnish," says Esteve Jané. "This project is a very important one for Aifos, and we couldn't afford problems with equipment orders and support. When a Finnish company says an order will arrive in ten days, you can expect it there on the afternoon of the ninth day."

In addition to the mobile computer's light weight, ability to carry a single charge all day and operate at -35°C, Jané also noted that  it was the only mobile computer on the market that would indicate a tag's distance from the reader, making locating much easier. But in working with Nordic ID, what Aifos appreciated most was the company's level of technical support. "At the outset we needed to know that the mobile computer would work in subarctic temperatures," says Jané, "and none of the companies we talked with had tested for that. Nordic ID support personnel did some investigation and explained how, technically, the Nordic ID PL3000 would stand up to the job. That convinced us, and since then support has been excellent."


A link to a video of the case.

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