By Philippe Held, Sokymat SA
The laundry industry is constantly progressing in the automation of its processes. Contactless and RFID technologies are enabling it to achieve the next level of automation, leading to the creation of the “intelligent laundry cycle.” The technology offers significant advantages with regards to other identification techniques adopted by the laundry industry, such as the traditional barcode system often used for the tracking and sorting of linens and garments.
RFID-based solutions allow operators to collect and store data automatically via a reader that communicates contactlessly with miniaturized transponders integrated within the pieces of laundry. Whether they are wet, dry, clean, dirty, folded or rolled up all together in a ball, all textiles can be automatically identified and sorted by the system in a matter of seconds.
Industrial laundries have successfully deployed RFID technology for more than ten years. During that time, Motorola’s proprietary RFID technology for the laundry industry became a de facto standard until the company decided to draw back from this market segment.
The suspension of Motorola’s RFID laundry product line caused massive damage to all laundries employing the solution, as the proprietary technology and protocol of Motorola’s system prevented the use of second source tags. Even today though, there are still some proprietary RFID systems on the market.
An open solution for the laundry industry
A new state-of-the art RFID system for tracking and sorting equipment developed by Dutch RFID system integrator RFID-net is proving to be an ideal solution to upgrade and gradually substitute Motorola’s process automation system. RFID-net selected the Sokymat Logi TAG family of laundry tags for their state-of-the-art solution based on open technology.
The new system consists of a complete RFID product line based on the ISO 15693 standard readers and Sokymat transponders and is open to second source tags, offering clients flexibility in their future choice of supplier and a guarantee of long term availability of the products.
RFID-net developed the integrated system in such a way that a single scan station can read both the old Motorola and the new Sokymat transponders. Therefore, laundries currently using the discontinued Motorola system can now gradually replace the old Motorola tags with the new generation of 13.56 MHz Sokymat Logi TAG transponders without disruptions to the system’s functionality.
Laundry tags: RFID vs. barcode
When comparing RFID technology with alternative identification and tracking methods, it becomes evident why this technology has achieved such enormous success in the laundry industry.
RFID requires no line of sight to operate and tags do not need to be properly aligned to be read. Moreover, the unique serial number of each tag guarantees the full traceability of each garment at each step of the process.
The RFID transponder (or laundry tag) essentially consists of an integrated circuit with an antenna, packaged in a thin plastic case. Thanks to the heat, pressure and chemical required to by the industry, RFID laundry tags are among the most robust types of RFID tags available and last throughout the entire life cycle of the garments in which they are embedded. They are packaged to withstand the wet environment and the presence of aggressive chemical substances used in washing processes as well as the heat and physical wear and tear encountered during drying, finishing, spinning and pressing.
Smart garments mean faster processes
The tamper resistant memory chip of the RFID laundry tag stores a unique serial number that allows it to be identified before, during, and after the laundry process. Depending on the type of Sokymat tag chosen, additional storage capacity of the chip can be used to store item-specific information and instructions on item itself. Such information could include washing parameters such as “wash at 90°C,” “add softener,” or “sort with garments of Hotel De la Ville.” Read-write RFID laundry tags offer the possibility to write new data onto the memory chip if and when additional information needs to be registered directly on the transponder.
Thanks to the anti-collision feature, a considerable number of RFID tags can be read simultaneously in just a few seconds (e.g. 100 tags can be read by a single reader in under five seconds) significantly reducing identification and sorting time.