Corporate Strategy for Dramatic Productivity:


Shortening Inspection Time by 90%

by Professor Emeritus Akira Ishikawa

Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo, Japan

Former Dean, GSIPEB

Senior Research Fellow, ICC Institute, University of Texas at Austin

Doctoral Program Chair


Definition of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

In this section, I will discuss the technology of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), which is a way to identify objects using electromagnetic waves. In most cases, it refers to technologies that can acquire/transmit information obtained from tags containing ID information, via short-distance communications using electromagnetic fields or radio waves.


Specifically, a winning combination is to have Radio Frequency (RF) and Integrated Circuit (IC) tags converge with the wireless technology of readers that can read its data. However, since such tags can be attached to various objects and even onto human beings, they can be useful in monitoring and verifying positions and shifts in positions, and therefore reducing inspection times.


Speedy and accurate distribution support

An example is the distribution reforms through the application of a monitoring and tracking system for pharmaceutical products via the use of RFIDs by Eisai Distribution Co., Ltd. (Atsughi-shi, Kanagawa, President Jiro Kimura) and Sato Holding Corporation (Meguro-ku, Tokyo, Chairman Koichi Nishida) won the 11th Automatic Recognition System Grand Prize, which gives public recognition to advanced systems and technologies that demonstrate remarkable effects. This system works by monitoring and tracking via RFID technology highly accurate and efficient inspections of deliveries and arrivals at pharmaceutical factories, distribution centers, and agency delivery centers. It also enables the swift and correct responses to inquiries concerning the transportation and delivery of shipments after they have been dispatched.


A feature of the system include a one-way use in the original packing (which is easy to install) of psychotropic drugs, which require strict control. It is also designed for shared use among several companies; in this case, factories, distribution centers, and agencies.


Zero Error

As part of a “product substitution experiment” (which was carried out without informing company workers), surprise inspections, which involved gauging the accuracy of human inspections were carried out for a period of two months. The results registered a 4% error rate. In contrast, when RFIDs were used, the results showed a completely error-free, 100% accuracy rate.


In terms of efficiency and time saved, the IC tags succeeded in producing a super effect/productivity surge, as indicated in Fig. 5.1, which shows a comparison of inspection times. What had taken 20 to 30 minutes for visual inspection (with the aid of a delivery confirmation checklist) was reduced to only 2 to 3 minutes when IC tags were used to carry out the inspections.


Fig. 5.1 A comparison of Inspection-time (x axis — Number of packages; y axis — Inspection times). Source: Japan Automatic Identification System Association, “Findings of Trends in the Automatic Identification Apparatus Market — Although down by 9% in 2007, a slight increase is forecast for 2009”, “JAISA Bulletin,” 2009 Summer Edition, Vol. 11/No. 2, 2009.



But there was more to the super effect. It raised the sense of security, making it less stressful for addressees and delivery workers. The reduction of stress for patients, their families, and for people working in medical institutions, particularly licensed nurses, is also priceless.


According to the 2008 report compiled by the non-profit organization, Japan Council for Quality Health Care (Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Chief Director, Tetsuo Ihara), there were 1,440 medical accidents reported and a total of 220,000 medical incidents reported as well. While medical incidents do not amount to medical accidents, it is still extremely desirable to see the number of such incidents decrease even if it is just by a little.


All the more, when an error occurs, time is also lost to remedy the error, so this is also a factor that cannot be ignored.


The Pros and Cons of Two Methods

When classifying RFID tags by power source, we can classify them into the passive or active type. The former does not have a battery inside and operates by adjusting electromagnetic waves emitted from reader-writers, so they are cheap and do not require much maintenance. But their drawback lies in their short communication range, extending only several meters.


The latter, on the other hand, operates by drawing power from the battery in it, so its communication range extends much further — no doubt a super effect. However, its drawback is that it is limited by its battery life, thus requires maintenance. Furthermore, it is relatively expensive.


When examining the RFID tag by frequency band, another super effect becomes evident here as well. In the case of the long wave frequency band (below 135 KHz), the maximum possible communication range extends to 0.3 m. Although a relatively long antenna is required, it is resilient to the impact of water and dust.


In contrast, in the case of the microwave frequency band (2.45 GHz), the transmission method changes from the electromagnetic induction method to the Hertzian ray method and the communication range extends to 2 m, a one-digit difference.


Although a short-length antenna suffices, this has the drawback of being vulnerable to the impact of water and dust.


Since the RFID tag’s performance markedly varies by the power source it uses and by its frequency band, it becomes necessary to make use of it in a way that leverages its characteristic properties. However, compared to the conventional bar code, the RFID is clearly the winner in many ways; in terms of recordable data capacity, which is larger by two digits, amounting to several kilobytes; in terms of its maximum communication range, which is comparably larger (single-digit meters vs. dozens of centimeters); in terms of its ability to make simultaneous readings of multiple sources; and in terms of its penetrability (identifying individual units behind obstacles such as cardboards).


This paper was excerpted from Dr. Ishikawa’s upcoming new book, “Corporate Strategy for Dramatic Productivity,” published by World Scientific Publishing Company. Copyright 2013 Akira Ishikawa and WSPC ( The paper featured above comprises Chapter 5; additional selected chapters will be featured in upcoming issues of this Journal.


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