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U.K. Linen Service Cleans Up With RFID

Fishers Services is using passive UHF tags to track the receipt, washing and delivery of towels and sheets, thereby gaining visibility into where those items are located, as well as which are delayed or may be missing.
By Claire Swedberg
May 06, 2016

Commercial laundry and textiles rental company Fishers Services has equipped its latest "super laundry" in Glasgow with RFID readers to interrogate tags attached to the linens it provides to its customers, as well as on all bags and roll cages that it uses to ship those linens, so that the firm can view when goods are received, laundered and shipped to customers. By using the RFID system, provided by UBI Solutions, the laundry company can not only better manage its inventory of linens to prevent losses, but also provide its customers with access to the data.

Since 1900, Fishers has provided workwear and linen laundry services across Scotland, where it is headquartered, and in the North of England. At present, the company leases its own linen products—such as sheets, duvets and towels—to restaurants and hotels that use those linens and then send them back to the nearest Fishers laundry to be washed, dried, folded and returned for reuse.

To document the arrival of soiled linens, Fishers installed an RFID portal made with an Impinj Speedway Revolution R420 reader and four circular-polarization antennas.
Fishers Services has been growing, the company reports. It now washes, irons and delivers more than two million items every week, and it opened what it calls a "super laundry" near Glasgow in March 2016. The company serves a total of 2,000 hotels, according to Michael Jones, Fishers' managing director, and the new Glasgow laundry services 300 of those customers, all within a 50-mile radius of its facility. The firm now has twice the capacity as the facility it replaced.

With a large volume of linens moving to and from customers, Fishers experiences a loss of some items that simply cannot be accounted for. The company, which has an annual revenue of approximately £36 million ($52.7 million), loses about £1 million ($1.5 million) worth of product each year across all of its facilities. Fishers sought a solution that would make it easier to track stock moving into and out of its laundry facilities, and to be able to identify when and where any items went missing.

In addition, the company recently released its new ZHEN product. Fishers calls the 200- and 400-thread count range of sheets and towels its "laundry with intelligence," since it comes with a built-in RFID tag.

In past years, Jones says, the laundry company had been interested in RFID solutions to track inventory, but until recently, RFID tags were not robust enough to survive the rigors of multiple laundering. When sturdy laundry tags became more available during the past few years, the firm tested a software application to manage the RFID data residing on its own server. The software was fraught with difficulties, Jones reports. For one thing, he says, the RFID system had to remain open 24 hours a day so that the read data could be collected and accessed, but that meant the rest of the laundry's software needed to be running as well. In addition, the company wanted to enable its customers to view data from the system regarding the linens they were using, or were having laundered—but that required Fishers to grant those customers access to its IT system, he says, "and that raised security issues."

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