Several European companies are laying groundwork for tracking millions of pieces of clothing from warehouse to retail. Led by DHL Solutions, ASK, and systems integrator NBG-ID, located in France, DHL this year intends to staff two warehouses with RFID readers.
DHL’s Stéphanie Dardanne said that implementation “will be made according to the needs of our customers.” The company originally decided to implement RFID in 2001 and last summer conducted an RFID trial involving “reverse logistics for 30,000 pieces. Every store of Véronique Delachaux tagged their returns and sent pieces to our logistics warehouse in Marne La Vallée (France) to be inventoried and redirected according to the shipping instructions from the customer,” she said.
Two other companies involved in the process include ASK, a manufacturer of contactless cards, tickets, RFID tags and readers in Sophia-Antipolis, France, and integrator NBG-ID, Cavaillon, France. ASK’s UHF C.label, a smart paper label, was initially selected by NBG-ID and DHL to track garments at the fashion company’s 18,000 square meter Paris distribution center. DHL Fashion handles some 70 million clothes a year on 15 platforms for fashion clothing suppliers and boutique operators.
ASK’s Claire Boyer, communications, said the C.label, which was launched in 2003, is simply attached to each garment like any other tag. There are several advantages in using this type of tag, she said. “Of course there’s the low cost due to (cheaper) raw material (paper and ink). C.label is also environment-friendly.” The tag also can “withstand bending and twisting and is based on a silver ink antenna allowing logo printing and post-printing personalization. Our manufacturing process has only three main steps, so we make the whole label in the same factory from A to Z without subcontractors.”
In the fashion industry, according to ASK, collections change quarterly, which means that logistics is an essential element in the supply chain. A UHF-based management solution prevents mistakes in the number of pieces ordered, in the choice of right sizes, and increases the speed of information storing and reading. It also optimizes invoicing for end of season returns from retailers to manufacturers.
Ms. Dardanne said DHL is “responsible for all garments (if there are 10 trousers in a bag we are responsible for 10 pieces and not one bag). So, we must count all the pieces. With a bar code we can count 300 pieces per hour but with RFID we can count 36,000 pieces per hour, (therefore) improving productivity.”
A tag costs about €.20 or about $.25.
“A complete system to read tags on hanging clothes or flat clothes costs between 30,000 to 40,000 euros,” said Ms. Dardanne.
How does the system at DHL work? According to DHL:
The RFID system uses radio frequencies between 50 kHz and 2.5 Ghz. To track these electronic flows, the system includes: an RFID device, the Fashion Chip, which can be a self-adhesive label (using EM-Microelectronic’s EM4222 inlay) or a hangtag manufactured by ASK, containing data describing the item to which it is affixed.
The RFID application can be used at different steps in the logistics chain: in production (product identification, manufacturing orders control); warehousing (product location and inventories); transport (vehicles loading and unloading checks and track and trace); stores (direct control of arrivals to detect any possible discrepancies, inventory control, anti-theft, direct feedback from the stores’ IT system towards the central IT system for real time replenishment); and reverse logistics (reverse flow management).
Hanging clothes are tagged and then move, via trolleys, through the RFID reading system where all the tags are read. Each tag number is associated with the reference of each clothing item.
Boxed clothes are sent through an RFID tunnel consisting of four readers and a motorized conveyor.
Ms. Dardanne said DHL Fashion was created in 1968. “We specialize in the transport of garments on hangers. We have about 200 customers in the Fashion area handling luxury brands such as Prada and Tommy Hilfiger.”