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Warmkraft Boosts Order-Fulfillment Efficiency With RFID

The military uniform finisher is using EPC Gen 2 tags to reduce mispacks by 96 percent, and has cut shipping-related labor costs in half thanks to technology provided by SimplyRFID.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 10, 2011Warmkraft, a Mississippi company that applies finishes to military uniforms, has reduced its manual shipping labor costs by 50 percent, while lowering its shipping–error rate down to 0.2 percent from 5 percent, by RFID-tagging its products at the item level after those goods are treated, and by then reading the tags prior to shipment. The system, provided by RFID technology firm SimplyRFID, enables the finishing company to ensure that the correct products are packed in cartons and shipped to the military per each order, and also to send advance shipping notices and receive payment two weeks earlier than was possible without RFID.

Warmkraft began tagging its products destined for the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in November 2009, as required by the military agency, and has now expanded the system to its two Mississippi facilities at which uniforms are treated prior to being shipped to the Air Force—as well as, now, the U.S. Marine Corps. The USAF's item-level RFID deployment was intended to help the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency track the receipt and issuance of uniforms at Lackland Air Force Base's recruit training center (see USAF Boot Camp Tracks Boots). Over the next year, says Ron Lack, Warmkraft's general manager, the company also plans to begin tagging uniforms destined for the U.S. Army.

Warmkraft uses a Zebra R110Xi to print and encode its RFID labels, then attaches them to every garment.

The U.S. military receives uniforms from Warmkraft after the finishing company provides chemical treatments that include insect repellant, waterproofing and wrinkle proofing. Warmkraft receives uniforms from garment manufacturers, applies the appropriate chemical treatments, and ships the finished clothing to recruiting centers, where they can then be issued to soldiers. Prior to installing RFID, the firm depended on manual inspections to verify which uniforms were packed in which boxes, and to ensure that no mistakes were made before those cartons were shipped to fill military orders. In addition, regular audits were conducted on boxes just prior to their loading onto trucks, and if any errors were discovered in any of the audited cartons, the entire order would need to be manually inspected for additional errors before it could be transported. Ensuring that the proper items could be accounted for is especially important, Lack says, because the garments belonged to the supplier, and not to Warmkraft. "We process the goods," he states. "We don't own them. If they send us 1,000 garments, we have to account for 1,000 garments."

On the back side of each RFID label is an Avery Dennison AD-223 inlay.

Since Warmkraft was applying RFID tags for the USAF, the company chose to gain as much advantage from the technology as it could. Lack says his firm received installation assistance from one RFID company at its Taylorsville site. Then, when Warmkraft was ready to increase its tag-read speed on a conveyor system, as well as expand the solution's use to its second, larger site at Stonewall, it contracted for installation services and software from SimplyRFID. The first solution included RFID tags, readers and an Internet-based software system in which information was stored on a server hosted by the systems integrator. However, Lack notes, there were several shortcomings with this solution. For one thing, he explains, there were problems with reading the tags specific to the box being packed, and with ensuring that other tags in the vicinity (stray reads) were not captured by the system. What's more, he adds, the Web-based server was a concern, since a failure in Internet connection could potentially shut the RFID system down.

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