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Crystal Group Uses RFID Tags to Track Garment Production

The Hong Kong knitwear company has installed RFID interrogators at 8,000 sewing stations in three of its plants, so that it can record the number of garments made by each worker.
By Claire Swedberg
Every garment or bundle of garments is also identified by the passive 13.56 MHz RFID tag embedded in a plastic label attached to each item or bundle. Some garments arrive individually, hanging from hooks attached to a conveyor system; others are part of a bundle of items; and some travel on rollers that move the product down the assembly line. During the sewing process, workers use their station's RFID interrogator to read each tagged item or bundle and record the pieces they sew.

Data from the readers is sent via a wide-area network (WAN) connection to Crystal's back-end enterprise resource planning (ERP) and payroll system. The information is also transmitted to a password-protected Internet server hosted by GPRO.

Employees can check their progress on their RFID terminals by pressing a "Sending Messages" button to receive a summary of their total production quantity, efficiency and earnings for a particular shift.

The garment RFID labels and employee ID cards are printed with a serial number on the front and encoded in the factory's cutting section, where fabric is cut and prepared for sewing. Old tags can be recycled—that is, re-encoded and reused, attached to a bundle or individual garment hook, then sent back into production.

The SDT system also provides customized reports containing production data. Factory managers can use these reports to identify and resolve problems occurring on the floor, and to oversee quantities flowing from one production operation to another, with an eye toward minimizing pileups. The SDT presents the data in a dashboard-style format displayed on a computer screen.

The factories recouped the cost of their RFID investment within a year of deployment, Loon says, due to improvements in workflow. The cost of a system such as this is based on the number of RFID stations, he adds, though he declines to provide a specific price. According to Loon, Crystal Group intends to fully roll out RFID at all of its factories by 2008.

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