Commercial Laundry: Brian Polatsek, EcoBrite Linen, Skokie, Ill.
I am a big believer that RFID (radio-frequency identification) is the future of the laundry industry. The value position of RFID in bulk linen should be viewed from two perspectives: the customer and the laundry.
From the customer perspective, RFID provides the ability to track lost linen and damaged linen accurately, allowing the operator to recover the cost from the customer.
This data and tracking capability can be used to provide the customer with detailed usage and loss data. The customer can use that as a tool to manage and reduce losses, as well as product misuse or waste. Some of our customers reduced their usage by more than 10% with the data feedback provided.
A customer can also manage his/her inventory properly, stock closets properly, and not have to spend time calculating and ordering linen.
RFID also allows an operator to bill by item easily, and this eliminates a trust issue with the customer, as they can verify the orders and know that their invoices are accurate.
All this helps convert the relationship with the customer from a vendor to an added-value service provider. The operator recovers losses, and the customer reduces cost. It is a real win-win.
From the laundry perspective, RFID offers many additional benefits. Knowing what your customer has and being able to track usage accurately allows the operator to easily manage and reduce inventory.
Designing your process around an RFID system allows you to optimize operations. In our plant, the receiving side does not need to log anything. The data is captured in real time and the orders for the customer are automatically generated utilizing the return data.
Throughout the process, RFID allows us to assign the products to orders automatically without using pick lists or any counting. Outgoing orders are verified easily, so you know the customer receives an accurate order.
Tracking life-cycle data allows for better cost modeling and smarter linen purchasing.
That’s what can be done today. The RFID system is going to easily allow for a lot more automation in the future. This includes robotic sorting, auto pack-out, and automatic storage and retrieval systems that will eliminate a significant number of personnel, allow for an unlimited number of SKUs, and reduce the amount of real estate required, freeing up space for additional capacity.
The challenges with RFID are hardware integration and software account and ordering management. The operator has to have a process design and a clear specification and understanding of what the RFID-based system will provide. We have spent an enormous amount of time working through every step of the process, but every minute was well worth it.
Our belief is that it makes sense to tag anything that costs more than 60 cents. The type of item does not really matter. However, different textiles require different methods of tagging and sometimes the choice of the tag.
RFID is a significant investment, but done right, it pays for itself really nicely. I am happy to share my experiences with RFID integration.
Consulting Services: Michael Dodge, Gotli Labs (GLOBE), Minneapolis, Minn.
Using UHF tags for tracking and tracing of linens gives the customer the possibility to read thousands of tags simultaneously, even containers fully filled with linen items, in just a few seconds—with a high reliability even in high density of products.
However, there is a cost that needs to be understood and managed.
There are different UHF chips, for various laundry types, that are specially designed to withstand the sometimes-harsh washing processes in industrial laundries. There are some UHF chips that are specially designed to withstand strict sterilization processes.
The UHF tags also provide useful information to management (lifetime, amount of washing cycles, compare batches, repair, rewash). The RFID (radio- frequency identification) tags are reusable and the history of the tag’s former linen item will be kept.
Advantages to healthcare (and hospitality sector):
Due to their construction and selection of non-ferrous materials, UHF RFID tags do not have any effect on magnetic fields associated with typical MRI systems. So, they are highly suitable for usage in linen and garments in healthcare.
Advantages to (heavy-duty) industry:
The tags are also highly suitable for heavy-duty industrial laundry applications. The new advanced mechanical design gives the RFID chip extra strength and reliability in heavy-duty industrial garment and flat linen applications.
The type of fabric does not make a difference in usage. However, it is important that the fabric does not shrink too much and that the tags are attached to the linen in a preferred method. RFID tags can be attached by:
- Inserting them into the hem during the production process.
- Excising linen/garments: opening the hem, inserting the tag and closing the hem again.
- By using a pouch—this can be a blank pouch or a pouch with the logo of the client.
The tags are suitable for all kinds of tracking of garments, linen or dust control items. Some laundries are introducing the RFID tags in new products and change, over time, from bar-code ID systems to UHF tags.
Remember the reasons and advantages for investing dollars into collecting this important product data. The investment is not only scanners and RFID chips. It also involves software and systems needed to utilize this data in a profitable manner.
The first important question to ask: What is your expected savings or additional revenue going to be with this RFID process? Almost all products can now include a RFID tag; however, there is a cost.