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Carnaval Puts RFID Hangtags on Kids' Clothing

The Mexican designer of children's apparel will use the EPC Gen 2 tags to track garments as they arrive from the factory, as well as when they are inspected, stored and then shipped.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 02, 2009Mexican children's fashion company Carnaval is launching an RFID system to track the items it distributes as they arrive from the factory, as well as when they are inspected, stored and then shipped to a retailer. The tags can also be tracked by Liverpool, a department-store chain that sells Carnaval's products at its 68 Mexican locations. Workers at Carnaval's third-party clothing factory are currently in the process of tagging approximately one million items as they are manufactured (the factory produces about 1 million garments each month). The company expects the RFID system will be ready to go live within the next few weeks, says Mauricio Cohen, Carnaval's business administrator.

Carnaval is the distributor of children's fashion in Mexico for such global brands as Disney Kids Apparel and Hello Kitty. It typically designs the clothing, sends those designs to third-party contractors that sew a prototype of that design, and sends the final order with the fabric to be used to another third-party contractor that sews the clothing. The clothing then returns to Carnaval to be inspected, stored and shipped to retailers.

Approximately one year ago, Cohen says, Carnaval began seeking an RFID solution. The company was opening a new facility in Santa Fe, Mexico, where its garments are designed, inspected, stored and shipped, and wanted a new system that it could use to resolve inventory inaccuracies experienced at its older facilities. The inaccuracy was the result of human error in the pick-and-pack operations, as well as delays in data regarding what had been shipped or received. The firm also hoped to speed the movement of merchandise by making inventory easier to locate and ship.

The company met with Digilogics S.A. De CV to design and install the system, which consists of software developed by Digilogics, as well as fixed interrogators made by Impinj and handheld readers supplied by a vendor not yet decided on. The integrator designed a system to track the garments at multiple locations within Carnaval's warehouses, says Humberto Mijares, a Digilogics partner and co-owner, in order to offer the company visibility into what has and has not been shipped, as well as where garments are at any particular time.

Carnaval is employing UPM Raflatac's ShortDipole EPC Gen 2 RFID tags, made with Impinj's Monza 3 tag chips. UPM Raflatac encodes each tag with a unique ID number, then converts it into a paper hangtag. Carnaval sends the hangtags to the third-party manufacturer prior to sewing the garments, along with the fabric and designs. Each tag's ID number is linked, in Digilogics' standalone software, to such product information as the garment's stock-keeping unit (SKU), style, size and color. The software then stores that data and displays the location of items within the warehouse, as well as providing business reports identifying, for example, how long certain goods have remained in storage. The third-party manufacturer attaches an RFID-enabled hangtag to each finished garment, and puts the items on clothing hangars. Soon, it plans to begin shipping them back to Carnaval's Santa Fe facility.

When the items are received, they will first pass through a fixed RFID portal at the dock doors, where tags are read for the first time. The Digilogics software will utilize that information to verify which items have been received at the Santa Fe site. The garments will then be hung by their hangars onto a ceiling conveyor system, which will transport the clothing to the auditing station, where another RFID portal will capture the unique ID number of each item's tag, indicating in the Digilogics standalone software that the item has reached the auditing process. During the audit, if an item is found to be flawed, staff members will input a description of that flaw into the Digilogics system. Otherwise, the garments will be approved and transported to one of two warehouses, each of which has an RFID portal to indicate which warehouse the item is being stored in.

When an order is received from a retailer, warehouse personnel will know which warehouse to retrieve the items from, then remove the items by forklift and pass once more through the portal, which will indicate the item has been removed from storage. The garments will then be placed in boxes for shipping. An RFID label will be attached to each box. At this time, only one Mexican retailer—Liverpool—is RFID-enabled to read those tags, at its own distribution center. Carnaval's employees are expected to use a handheld reader to scan the box tag's ID number, which is linked, in the Digilogics software, to the tag ID numbers of products packed in that box. If the wrong item is placed in a box, or if an item is overlooked, the system will send an alert to the staff. However, Mijares says, the company has not yet determined exactly how it will work the RFID reading process into its packing process.

Once the system goes live sometime next month, Mijares indicates, Carnaval will begin working on the project's next phase—integrating the Digilogics software system into its own enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, using data from the RFID system to fine-tune its manufacturing and distribution operations by identifying bottlenecks.
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