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Clothing Maker Says RFID Significantly Improves Production
Chinese firm Lawsgroup has deployed an RFID work-in-progress tracking system that is leading to measurable improvements in its operations and a quick return on investment.
Aug 21, 2006—Lawsgroup, a contract manufacturer based in Hong Kong that produces garments for a number of U.S. retailers—including the Gap, Old Navy and J.C. Penney—uses RFID to automate the tracking of raw materials, semifinished components and finished garments throughout most of its 15 production sites, in Asia. In describing the system to attendees at last week's RFID Journal—AAFA Apparel & Footwear Summit, Bosco Law, director of corporate development for Lawsgroup, said it provides significant visibility into the company's operations. Lawsgroup facilities using the technology are now able to produce more garments and react more quickly to changes in product orders than they were under the older, manual system for tracking work-in-progress.
Prior to its efforts to begin developing and prototyping the RFID system in 2000, the company had experienced growing pressures from clothing designers to manufacture more garment styles each year with increasingly shorter lead times. Moreover, retailers requested more timely or fashionable products for each season. This forced Lawsgroup to look for a means of supporting a leaner manufacturing process with greater control over each production step, so that the company would produce only what it needed for each order and could react more quickly to order changes.
Under its manual tracking system, Laws explains, once the raw materials were sent into the production process, they entered a "black hole," where they remained invisible until emerging as a finished product. Cut raw materials, to be used to fulfill each order, were grouped together in component bundles, such as sleeves, cuffs and hoods. A hand-written paper ticket with order information was attached to each bundle by a strip of fabric, and bundles were brought from sewing station to sewing station, where the bundles changed from components to completed garments. The garments were then sent to a quality-inspection station. Throughout the tracking process, pertinent information was written to the tickets accompanying each bundle at each station. Sometimes the information was incorrect or illegible, causing production delays.
Under the new RFID-enabled system, high-frequency (13.56 MHz) smart cards take the place of the paper tickets, and as employees collect the finished goods, they erase and reuse the attached smart cards. The data collected from the cards provides a real-time look at how much each Lawsgroup plant produces throughout each shift.
As the garment components are assembled, workers encode the order information onto the smart cards. They use interrogators located at each workstation to read the smart cards, and they also scan a smart card assigned to each worker as an ID badge. The back-end system uses this data to track how many pieces are completed, as well as how many pieces of each garment order have reached each step in the manufacturing process. This kind of real-time information sharing was not possible with the paper-ticket tracking system.
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