If there is one thing we know about RFID, it’s that if there is one way to use it within a market or market segment, there are 100 ways. Using RFID to modernize or improve laundry management is no different. RFID–enabled laundry applications are being used in hotels, casinos, government offices, hospitals, schools, professional sports, and basically any institution that deals in employee uniforms, garments and linens.
The benefits of implementing an RFID-enabled laundry system range from streamlining processes to eliminating inventory errors, decreasing manual labor, and even reducing the spreading of disease. More advanced business objectives can include improved energy and water efficiency. All of these benefits have a direct, positive impact the bottom line, which is often the case with enabling a process with RFID.
However, it’s not just the use of RFID in general that improves laundry management. It’s very specific capabilities that have been designed into in RFID tags and readers, and the manner in which they operate with one another that make this use of RFID truly innovative.
The RFID tags used in laundry management need to be able to withstand water immersion, extreme heat, pressure and chemicals. On the flip side, RFID readers need to be able to read tags simultaneously for clothing or other items that may be stacked or in piles. As the technology has evolved, UHF RFID solutions are beginning to replace other RF and proprietary technologies in this space (we are also seeing the same thing in waste management, tolling, access control, and other markets and applications). UHF has proved to be ideal for laundry management because, not only can it be used to identify and locate hundreds of items per second, but it also has the added benefit of reading items from greater distances.
For organizations that need to track their garment inventory in large batches, UHF technology allows them to eliminate the less efficient practice of single-piece barcode or proprietary tag scans. Further, they can eliminate or reduce the number of expensive, dedicated read stations which can lead to added time-saving and cost reduction benefits.
Now, take into consideration that many business don’t have a laundry facility on-site. In these cases, the laundry is shipped elsewhere to be cleaned and sorted, making the management piece a little more challenging. If the laundry is done off-site, the implementation of RFID portals and use of tag directionality features can play a big role. It can be used to tell if the items are leaving or arriving for better inventory precision. Points of loss can be identified so that any necessary corrections can be made to prevent similar situations in the future.
Share your experiences or thoughts on the use of RFID for laundry management. We’re eager to hear them!
Analyst firm Frost & Sullivan recently featured ThingMagic and General Manager, Tom Grant as one of its much acclaimed Movers & Shakers. In their Movers and Shakers interviews, Frost & Sullivan places the spotlight on dynamic companies and leaders recognized for achieving milestones such as launching a breakthrough technology or implementing a revolutionary vision for the future of their industries. Needless to say we are very appreciative of being asked to participate.
Frost & Sullivan’s interview with ThingMagic explores interest in our business since being acquired by Trimble. As a division of Trimble, we are now in a better position to deliver UHF RFID products and solutions to the marketplace. As Grant said in the interview, “We have not changed post the acquisition, we have just become stronger.”
In describing what innovation means to ThingMagic, Grant explains that the most innovative solutions are those where users can interact with RFID naturally and where the technology is so integrated and transparent that it disappears. We’ve seen this in a growing number of deployments including those by Ford Motor Company and The Disney Family Cancer Center. We’re also seeing this begin to take hold in solutions like presence-based smart displays and kiosks where RFID is helping to create a seamless and pervasive interaction between people, the environment, and information. This innovation in content delivery and management systems is also intersecting with social networks, which makes it attractive to new markets and an expansive base of new users.
The interview also highlights ThingMagic’s vision of how RFID solutions and innovation will drive the next revolution of wireless and mobility. We believe that the next wave of innovation and success will come from combining technologies such as active and passive RFID, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. The success metric will be when the best of these technologies are combined in a hybrid product or solution that is less defined by the technology and more about what the users can accomplish with it.
As a market, we’ve reached several important milestones. It’s time to set our sights on the next one. We need to start thinking beyond the enabling technology and focus on the value of the data generated by RFID reads and how it can be applied to business processes. “it is time we reshape the way we think about RFID”, says Grant.
What do you envision the next RFID milestone to look like?
There has been one interesting constant throughout my career in technology. This constant was brought forward by many others over the past week with the passing of Steve Jobs on Tuesday, October 5th.
During my time at a handful of companies in a handful of markets there has always, at some point, been a hardware engineer, software developer, product manager, marketer, or company executive who has referred to Apple’s innovation, design elegance, user experience or marketing genus. This reference has been introduced most often when some sort of impasse has been reached and someone wants to make a point that everyone in the room will understand.
The point usually goes something like this…
“Look at the [choose your product: iMac, Mac G4 Cube, MacBook, MacOS, iPod, iPsd, iTunes]. Our product should be as [choose one or more: elegant, simple, inviting, easy to use, brilliant].”
Making this point usually leads to discussion about how to embrace the user experience, think creatively, and achieve greatness.
Apple and their products have had an unmatched influence on how many of us work, play and communicate. They have also influenced how we think, create, design and market. I can’t think of another company that has had as much influence across as many areas of my personal and work lives.
I’m proud to say that one of the influences behind ThingMagic’s '100 Uses of RFID' program was the Apple III advertisement from 1983 (part 3) which answered the question “Will someone please tell me exactly what a personal computer can do?”
I think Apple answered that question well.
Beyond the Right product, at the right place, at the right time...
RFID in retail has demonstrated major business benefits in the way of streamlining the supply chain, which leads to reduced costs and enhancing the customer experience - resulting in increased and recurring sales. All good for a thriving business, which is probably why Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s have recently taken a stronger stance on their RFID deployment plans.
Last week it was reported that Macy’s is embarking on a widespread adoption of RFID. This is very exciting to those of us who have been supporters (and developers) of RFID since its infancy. Macy's will be one of the first retailers to implement RFID on a broad scale. Next year, the company plans to be using RFID in all U.S. stores to track items that are regularly stocked and automatically resupplied as they are sold to customers. These “replenishment goods,” which include men's furnishings, intimate apparel, men's pants, denim and women's shoes, make up about 30 percent of its sales. One can deduce that Macy’s expects that number to grow based on its investment in RFID.
According to Tom Cole, Macy’ chief administrative officer, the goal of the project is to help them ensure they have the right product, in the right place, at the right time for their shoppers. It would seem like a simple notion, but there are many variables in retail that make that a difficult task. But, RFID can replace some of those pesky variables with the desired constant.
From the Supply Chain to the Fitting Room
RFID is improving the retail experience outside of supply chain enhancements as well. Recently, ThingMagic UHF RFID readers were featured in a Musical Fitting Room video to show the powerful combination of music, fashion and RFID. It’s a great concept. The idea is to appeal to the individual shopper by playing music that resonates with them, then sending them an SMS with the name of the song and a link to download it for free on StarHub.com.
To make this work, the clothing items have RFID tags applied to them that, when brought into the dressing room, trigger a song that matches the ‘mood’ of the clothes. The project coveres 16 genres and more than 10,000 songs to encompass all ages and types of shoppers.
With RFID, retailers can count and track item-level inventory much easier, faster and accurately. A very important part of the equation solved. Once you have that part of the equation, you can arrive at “right product, right place, right time” answer. And who doesn’t like getting the right answer all of the time? Now, with a soundtrack to boot!