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RFID Helps Disney Employees Get Into Character

The company is using EPC passive UHF tags to track $100 million worth of costumes at its parks and on its cruise ships, making the issuance of garments a self-serve process, while also streamlining the counting of inventory.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 10, 2012Employees at Disney's theme parks, as well as on its cruise ships, have an easy start to their day when it comes to retrieving costumes. A worker can simply locate a required garment within a storage room, bring it to an RFID-enabled self-service kiosk, present his or her ID badge and walk away. The company installed the RFID-based solution at most of its parks worldwide last year, managing close to $100 million worth of costumes, as a way for staff members to more quickly check their garments in and out, while also improving the visibility of those items through the laundering and repair process, and reducing the amount of time required to perform inventory checks. However, says Vinny Pagliuca, the company's director of creative costuming and entertainment metrics, an increase in employee job satisfaction has been an unexpected benefit.

In addition to pleasing its staff, Disney reports, the solution has paid for itself in less than a year, by slashing its inventory-counting time from approximately 180 labor hours (within the larger costume storage areas) down to only about two hours. The system has also increased the accuracy of the inventory checks, from 85 to 90 percent accurate to nearly 100 percent. What's more, says Pagliuca—who described the system to attendees at RFID Journal LIVE! 2012, held last week in Orlando, Fla.—the need to staff checkout counters has been eliminated, thereby freeing up personnel for other tasks.

In costume storage rooms, Disney's workers can use a rolling RFID reader to quickly perform inventory counts.

Disney maintains approximately $100 million worth of costume inventory worldwide, with about half of the garments used at its Walt Disney World park, in Orlando. The company had installed a bar-code-based costume inventory system during the mid 1990s, for all of its parks worldwide to track the checking in and out of costumes, as well as their laundry cycles. In the late 1990s, the firm then implemented management software known as the Garment Utilization System (GUS), featuring additional reporting capabilities, that could hold a greater amount of data than the previous software.

Scanning bar codes was time-consuming, however, requiring workers to distribute the costumes to cast members, and to receive garments that needed to be laundered. An employee's costume can comprise more than 20 components, each of which had to be hand-scanned using a bar-code reader. In addition, inventory checks typically involved 15 to 20 employees working about nine hours at some of the larger sites. These costume storage sites are used by staff members who perform in theatrical programs, or who simply work with guests at Disney's theme parks, as well as those working on ships operated by Disney Cruise Line. At each site, workers can walk through aisles of garments, in order to select and check out those required for a particular day's work.

Vinny Pagliuca
During the past few years, Disney has explored the use of radio frequency identification to manage its costume assets, first using high-frequency (HF) tags, and has run the tags through the laundry process to determine if they could sustain those conditions. The tags worked well, Pagliuca says, and the company thus issued a request for proposals to RFID vendors, some of which proposed ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) solutions. Disney then tested Fujitsu Frontech North America's WT-A611 passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tag (a rubber-encapsulated inlay designed specifically for use on laundered items). From this testing, the company ascertained that the WT-A611 tag could operate well after being washed, and that it offered a longer read range than the HF tag, which could make the process of conducting inventory counts easier. What's more, the company realized that UHF Gen 2 passive tags were rapidly becoming a standard—with wide adoption in the retail supply chain, for example.

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