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How RFID Can Provide Critical Real-Time Production Information

Real-time information regarding key performance indicators is pivotal for driving processes toward meeting a company's production targets.
By Amila Nandasekera
The pilot was organized to track sewing operations at line-in (a point in the assembly line at which bundles of garment components are fed into the line) and at line-out (where finished goods are inspected for quality). Each point had its own RFID reader. A third RFID reader was installed after the line-out reader for the purpose of de-allocating RFID tags. Apart from the readers, there was a display board hung up at line-out to indicate real-time efficiency, each shift's target, cumulative actual output and cumulative defective percentage, as well as alerts for open down time, lost time, overproduction, underproduction, work-in-progress (WIP), garment rejects, panel rejects and absenteeism. This helped supervisors and sewing-machine operators know, in real time, whether the above production KPIs were within tolerance during production.

Each sewing operator was provided with an RFID tag, which she scanned via the line-in reader before beginning to sew, to indicate that the employee had come to the production line to work, and enabling the system to calculate the important KPI of absenteeism. Upon finishing a shift, the workers tagged themselves out on the line-in reader. This helped calculate individual minutes worked, as well as the daily team-based incentive for the operators.

An RFID reader used for the pilot
In garment manufacturing, one bundle includes all components required to complete a particular number of clothing items. For example, if the bundle size is 50, that means the bundle contains all of the components necessary to complete 50 garments. During the pilot, a tag was not physically attached to each individual piece of clothing, but was allocated to a particular bundle. The tag was tied to that bundle with a cord, and was transferred to the sewing line along with the bundle. The tag carried a pouch that held a piece of paper printed with all information pertaining to that bundle.

After tagging herself in, the operator at line-in fed the garment-component bundles into the production line, and scanned the respective bundle tags on the line-in reader in order to indicate WIP within that line. Upon receiving the finished garments, the line-out operator entered the number of defects and the quantity of defective garments into the system, and the clothing items were then sent back to the sewing operator to be reworked. The passable (defect-free) garments were "tagged out" by passing them by the line-out reader. Once the reworked garments were returned to the line-out point, the operator at that location tagged them out, if the defects had been rectified. After the garments were tagged out by the line-out reader, the cumulative actual output was indicated on the display board, while cumulative defective percentage was displayed every time the defective statistics were entered into the line-out reader.

Whenever a machine went down, a line supervisor scanned a "down-time" RFID tag on either the line-in or line-out reader, in order to indicate the machine's status. The moment that the downtime tag was scanned, a mechanic was sent an e-mail alert, triggering that individual to come to the line as soon as possible and fix the machine. Upon arriving at the line, the mechanic scanned his RFID tag on either of the two readers, and then began mending the equipment. Once the machine was fixed, the mechanic tagged himself out, and the supervisor scanned the down-time tag back, thereby confirming that the machine was again functioning properly. All of the RFID tags used for the pilot were low-frequency (LF) non-washable passive tags, while the readers utilized were LF devices manufactured by Sabre Technologies.

During the pilot, hourly e-mail alerts regarding the following KPIs were sent to the production and management teams:

• Planned shift efficiency versus actual cumulative efficiency
• Target cumulative output versus actual cumulative output
• Planned lost time versus actual lost time
• Target quantity of defective pieces versus actual quantity of defective pieces
• Planned defective percentage versus actual defective percentage

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