.:Major hospital uses RFID to achieve substantial cost savings and higher efficiency in its garment and laundry operations :.
St. Olavs Hospital is a large modern university hospital in Trondheim, Norway. As one of the country's top six hospitals, it provides healthcare services to over 650,000 inhabitants and conducts medical research at the highest international level.
A billion dollar construction project over the past few years has transformed St. Olavs into one of the most adavnced and technology intensive hospitals of its kind in the worlds.
- St. Olavs Hospital has over 7,500 employees and some 1,200 beds spread over a large site.
- It treats some 50,000 patients every year and acts as both a local and national centre of excellence for a very wide variety of medical conditions.
- The hospital uses over 130,000 work garments such as operating gowns, robes, trousers etc in its medical and research operations.
Managing such a large number of work garments (130,000) can be a major problem and cost for any hospital, especially one of the size and complexity of St. Olavs.
Traditionally garments are supplied on hangers which are bulky, difficult to handle and require expensive storage space. Also a lack of real-time management data on stock levels means that stocks often run low or even out all together, causing unnecessary disruption to operations while staff try to find the correct garment in the right size. Additionally staff normally must fill in paper-based forms to register for garments so that wards can be charged for laundry services, and this can waste valuable staff time and reduce hospital efficiency.
The challenge was to design a system that would provide real-time data on garment logistics as they move from laundry to storage cabinets in the hospital and out to the wards and individual users, and back to the laundry. Any tracking system had to be easy to use, allow staff to use their existing ID cards and be robust enough to withstand the harsh conditions of laundry processing with its high temperatures and pressures and rough treatment. Since the garments are stored in piles rather than on bulky hangers, the tags have to be readable even when garments are folded and stacked on top of each other.
The new system also had to provide automatic re-ordering of garments when stock levels in any size fall below set levels, plus automatic logging of each ward's garment usage so that wards can be accurately charged for their laundry services.
Finally, the system had to deliver substantial overall cost savings to the hospital - in terms of both space savings and operational savings.
St. Olavs Hospital chose Texi AS, also based in Trondheim, to provide consultancy and system design services based on their Texi logistics and wardrobe management system already proven in other applications. Texi are a world leader in electronic garment management systems.
Texi proposed a system based on intelligent RFID-enabled garment closets of their own design plus RFID tags attached to each garment to meet all the hospitals requirements.
Trials were conducted to determine which tags had the highest read accuracy under harsh laundry conditions over large numbers of cycles, and which tags could be read reliably when tagged garments are stacked closely in piles in the closets.
As a result of the trials, Texi found that Texas Instruments RFID tags had the highest read accuracy and reliability of any tags tested, especially when subjected to the harsh environment of the laundry process. Their multi-read capability also allowed the multiple tags to be accurately read even when garments are stacked in piles.
The solution proposed by Texi AS was a complete garment logistics management system that uses 'intelligent' RFID closets and special RFID tags developed by Texas Instruments (TI). These rugged encapsulated tags (Type RF-HDT-DVBB-N0 with 2kbit R/W memory) are particularly well suited for laundry operations.
In operation, a TI RFID transponder is attached to each garment. Each tag is pre-programmed with a unique identity linked to a database holding data on garment type and size. Clean garments from the laundry are placed in rows of specially designed garment closets each equipped with built-in RFID antennas. The intelligent closets automatically 'read' the chips on each garment and register exactly what they contain (i.e. 35 robes size M, 59 trouser size M etc). They also detect when garments are added or removed, and the inventory in continuously updated on the main hospital database in real-time. If garment stocks fall below pre-set levels, orders are automatically sent over to network to refill them to ensure garments are always available in the correct types and sizes.
The ruggedised TI tags remain on the garments during the entire laundry process and can withstand the very high temperatures, pressures and rough treatment found in the laundry.
TI's tags also enable bulk readings of garments even though they are stored folded and in piles. This results in major space and cost savings compared to other competing solutions where garments have to be transported and stored individually on bulky hangers.
To collect garments, staff access the closets using their ID cards and simply remove the required garments which are immediately and automatically registered to that emplyee and their ward. Each cabinet in clearly labeled with the type of garments it contains so staff can quickly find the required items. After use, staff simply return the garments to any garment bin in the hospital and the RFID tags are again automatically read and the returned garments correctly credited to the relevant ward - all without any paperwork or form filling.
A supervisor with a PC connected to the server has complete visibility to garment stocks in the many garment closets and store rooms around the hospital at all times providing improved logistics management.
According to Texi, one of the main challenges was to find RFID tags that could provide high readability even when subject to the high temperatures, pressures and conditions found in the laundry processes.
"TI's RFID tags were chosen specifically because they scored higher on readability than any other tags we tested, even after many repeated laundry cycles," said Texi's Vidar Kvalheim.
"The TI RFID tags specified by Texi are 13.56 HF read/write types, fully overmolded and designed to withstand the high temperature and pressures of laundries," said Gunnar Ivansson of TI's distributor Electrona-Sievert. "They can operate with high readability in tough environments where conventional tags would have problems," he added.
St. Olavs Hospital actively participated in the development of the final solution and has already installed well over 100 intelligent closets in 10 different garment storage rooms around the site. Further expansion is underway.
The hospital management authority expects savings of over 40 million Norwegian kroner ($6 million) in space savings alone. It is projected that further on-going savings of several million kroner in operational costs will be realised due to more efficient data collection for improved logistics management, automated ordering, and time-savings for staff because garments are much easier and quicker to find.
Initial findings from the hospital staff are that garments are always available in the appropriate size, and time-consuming form filling is replaced with a simple 'swipe and go' process that is much quicker and easier to use.
Systems Integrator: Texi AS
Texi AS based in Trondheim, Norway is a leading supplier of textile and garment management systems and is highly experienced in providing complete consultancy and RFID-based solutions custom designed for each application and customer.
TI Tag Technology Supplier: Electrona-Sievert AB
The TI RFID tags were supplied by Electroa-Sievert AB of Stockholm, Sweden, a well established distributor of TI's RFID products with many years experience serving the Scandinavian markets.
About Texas Instruments RFID Systems
Texas Instruments is the world's largest integrated manufacturer of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) transponders and reader systems. Capitalising on its competencies in high-volume semiconductor manufacturing and microelectronics packaging, TI is a visionary leader and at the forefront of establishing new markets and international standards for RFID applications.