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Chinese Apparel Factory Improves Efficiency Via 80,000 Tag Reads Daily

Affirm Heart attaches a passive tag to each piece of fabric, so that it can monitor the manufacturing of tens of thousands of garments each day.
By Claire Swedberg
Once an item has been designed, the necessary fabric is ordered. When the factory receives the fabric, workers cut it into pieces and attach a 125 kHz low-frequency (LF) passive RFID tag to each section. GS1 generally provides support for solutions based on EPC UHF RFID technology, not those based on LF RFID technology. However, Wong explains, "UHF is not suitable in the apparel production lines."

Each tag's unique ID number is interrogated, after which that information is forwarded to the RAME software residing on a cloud-based server, along with the product-line data. That read event creates a record indicating when the apparel has entered the sewing process. The tags are read at workstations during sewing and then pressing, and again upon their arrival at the finished-garment department. Workers wave each item past the reader installed at their station (of which there are 32 per production line), as they complete each process, such as sewing on buttons, thereby creating a record of which items they worked on. The tags are removed before each garment is shipped.

Workers at Affrm Heart's factory attach a passive 125 kHz RFID tag to the piece of fabric used to make a single garment.

The software enables management to determine how quickly a specific item is being manufactured, in what quantity similar items are made, and when the process may become delayed. Every day, Wong says, approximately 80,000 tag reads occur throughout the entire factory.

The RAME Decision Making Module displays production progress and shares data with Affirm Heart Far East's own management software, which can identify potential production problems. The RAME software tracks not only how quickly goods are being produced, but also how quickly each operator works, based on the quantity of RFID tags read at a specific workstation. This makes it possible for Affirm Heart's production managers to schedule workers according to the efficiency of similar products, and to assign personnel to the stations at which they have proven to be the most efficient.

The entire system was taken live on all 18 production lines, comprising a total of 576 workstations, at the end of 2012, but the company began with four lines earlier in the year. Affirm Heart found, when the system was put into place on those four production lines, that labor costs were reduced by 8 percent, while production efficiency increased by 25 percent.

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