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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
According to Pagliuca, Disney designed the RFID software that manages read data and links that information to the existing Garment Utilization System. "We had GUS with bar codes," he states, "We just converted it to operate with RFID." The GUS software resides on the local Disney database in place at each of the company's locations.

Now, as new costumes arrive at a Disney site from a vendor, 30 to 40 percent already have tags sewn into them, with Disney employees attaching tags to the remaining 60 to 70 percent. Each tag is placed within a pouch, which is then sewn into an unobtrusive location on the costume where it can easily be read (such as in a waistband). Establishing these locations took time, Pagliuca says, and a guidebook has been created to indicate the proper location for affixing tags on each type of garment or accessory. For items composed of hard materials (instead of textiles), the tags are attached using an adhesive.

One of Disney's self-serve kiosks, with built-in RFID antennas to read a costume's tags

Once a tag is attached, its ID number is linked to the garment in the GUS system, and the costume is then placed within the storage area, accessible by cast members.

At the beginning of a shift, a cast member can walk through the aisles of costumes, select his or her garments and proceed to an RFID checkout kiosk. The kiosks, designed by Disney, have ThingMagic readers built into them. At the checkout kiosk, the employee hangs the selected garments on a rod, places them on an RFID-enabled counter or carries them through an RFID portal. The worker then swipes his or her ID badge through a magnetic-stripe or bar-code reader at the kiosk, thereby prompting the display of that individual's face and name on a video screen. The interrogator captures each garment's tag ID number and forwards that information via a cabled connection to the GUS software, which displays those garments on the screen and prompts the employee to accept the transaction by pressing "done." The checkout process is then complete, and the cast member can continue on with that day's work, while the system records which garments were checked out.

Upon returning the costumes, cast members throw them into a chute in which another ThingMagic reader captures each garment's tag ID and updates the status for that piece of clothing. The soiled costumes then pass through a portal en route to the laundry area (laundry is managed internally at Disney World, while at Disneyland, in Anaheim, Calif., it is shipped to an outside vendor). The portal readers update each garment's status, indicating when it enters and exits the laundry area.

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