Conference explores ‘RFID and Sustainability’
On the 15 June 2023 the University of Parma, in conjunction with Murata ID Solutions and Zebra Technologies, presented the results of their latest RFID sustainability research project.
With the growing demand for companies to operate in an eco-friendly manner, there is a constant drive for new products to help meet these targets. In this conference, leading researchers explored how IoT and RFID technologies can meet the challenges affecting the Healthcare and Pharma sector while providing a positive environmental impact, as well as exploring newly developed analysis tools.
The uptake of radio frequency identification (RFID) deployments in manufacturing and distribution is proliferating. The technology’s ability to provide real-time supply chain visibility can help to optimise inventory management, productivity, and stock accuracy. Within healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, this technology can also assist in reducing waste, whether this is through tracking key assets or to aid precise monitoring of expiration dates.
While the economic impact of RFID deployment is often explored in detail, the environmental effects are seldomly analysed. With sustainability targets becoming not just a consideration but a necessity for many businesses, understanding if the technology can help support eco-friendly initiatives is vital.
Initial inspection suggests that RFID products can enhance the sustainability of operations, but the ability to prove this categorically could be instrumental in furthering its uptake. During the first presentation of the day, Prof. Antonio Rizzi and Prof. Giuseppe Vignali from the University of Parma, along with Prof. Bahar Aliakbarian from Michigan State University, detailed how they went about realising this goal.
In collaboration with Michigan State University, the team at the University of Parma’s RFID Lab set about creating a method to determine whether an application of the technology is justifiable from a sustainability perspective. The basis of this study was a comparative analysis, evaluating the environmental cost of RFID deployment (in terms of CO2 produced) against the savings created by the solution. During the study, data was analysed from two real-world implementations – one from a health care supplier and one from a pharmaceutical supplier.
With the help of this data, the research team produced and validated two new analysis models designed to evaluate the environmental impact of the technology. Both models are based on the life cycle assessment (LCA) methodology, which encompasses all stages of a product’s life, including its ultimate disposal. The first LCA model quantifies the environmental impact generated by manufacturing and deploying RFID products. The second LCA model looks at how any changes that directly result from RFID implementation reduce the carbon footprint of the targeted system or process. Within this case study, the pharmaceutical supplier tagged boxes and pallets of products, while the healthcare supplier tracked medical equipment. In both cases, the two LCA models allowed the Parma RFID lab team to calculate the precise environmental burden of any implementation and prove its overall CO2 savings.
At the conference in May, representatives from the University of Parma and Michigan State University shared the exact results of their research. In both deployments, it was determined that RFID products yielded significantly higher environmental savings, far offsetting the impact of their production. RFID’s ability to provide fast and automatic inventory tracking enabled more efficient management of stock and assets that actively reduced the system’s total carbon footprint. Through their extensive research, the teams could also successfully identify key areas where the technology can achieve the greatest sustainability impact. The areas highlighted included preventing lost inventory, better stock level management and ensuring products are used before they expire.
The two methods developed by the University of Parma and its partners have been used to produce a new sustainability tool, known as environmental return on investment (E-ROI). Using E-ROI, it is possible to analyse the full impact of the technology and prove its effect on carbon emissions using real, quantifiable data. Historically Murata ID Solutions have been able to provide full evaluation of RFID implementation to determine the feasibility and the economic return on investment. Now, because of this supported academic research, it is also possible for Murata to help businesses to determine the environmental cost.
As a specialist in wireless technology, Murata has long advocated implementing RFID products as a way to save materials, improve inventory turnover, reduce wastage, and provide fast and accurate stock updates. With in-depth feasibility and E-ROI studies, Murata can now help companies accurately calculate not only the financial and efficiency implications of RFID and IoT technology but also the positive environmental impact. This dual approach enables businesses to be confident of both the project’s viability and that it will reduce their carbon emissions, helping them to meet sustainability targets.
Following the first lecture, two further presentations from industry and academic experts explored other key areas relating to RFID and IoT technology. The second presentation of the day from Prof. Carlo Rafele (Politecnico di Torino), Diego Lauritano (IRCCS Azienda Ospedaliero Universitaria di Bologna), and Wayne Miller (Zebra Technologies Corporation) examined how to improve the logistics of healthcare facilities. Analysing not only the potential challenges faced but also dissecting real-world case studies specifying their best practices and areas for improvement. The final presentation featured representatives from Murata ID Solutions, Eurodifarm, PHSE, and Dafne Consortium, and looked at how to deal with the digitisation of supply chains. This cross examination of end-to-end SC processes detailed how developments in RFID and IoT can be utilised to provide greater traceability, visibility, and sustainability, as well as talking through in-depth insights into current applications.
Drawing a close to the conference, guests were invited to view live demonstrations of Murata’s and Zebra Technologies’ RFID and IoT technology, providing a hands-on opportunity to explore various implementations and the benefits they can yield.