Sports Uniform Company Cuts Labor Time with RFID

Published: January 10, 2024

Protime Sports has leveraged a solution from Xemelgo to automatically track the location and status of orders of customized uniforms

While early RFID deployments were primarily adopted by large companies with sizable budgets, many small to mid-sized companies today are finding a return on investment with the technology.

Such automated identification can help smaller operations improve efficiency that will in turn better support customers, by illuminating what is taking place in factories, warehouses and yards.

A Seattle-based apparel manufacturer—Protime Sports—has spent the past year incorporating RFID to track work orders through its factory. The system has resulted in cuts in labor time and improvements in efficiency, company officials say.

Expansion of Uses

The UHF RFID-based solution was launched to track products as they were assembled and shipped to customers. But it is now expanding to track other materials.

The solution employs Xemelgo’s software platform, integrated with Protime’s own software, as well as fixed and handheld readers, says Rich Rogers, Xemelgo’s CEO. Xemelgo’s cloud-based, work-in-process tracking solution includes a mobile app with search and find function.

The system, which went live in December 2022, is expanding to track not just uniforms in production but the logos that are affixed to those uniforms.

Filling Orders for Custom Uniforms

Protime Sports is a supplier of custom sports uniforms worn by teams in baseball, soccer, basketball and other sports. It processes an average of 93 orders daily, some with a rush status.

The company customizes jerseys and other uniform parts, and then ships them directly to customers around the country, says John Moore, Protime Sports president.

However, the company had found that tracking work in progress, as well as picking goods for orders, was an increasingly time-consuming process for its workers.

Hundreds of Wasted Work Hours

On a regular basis, employees had to search for missing goods to fill each individual order, in the company’s 52,000 square-foot production facility.

That task led to hundreds of hours of wasted time that could be spent on production and serving customers. Additionally, the company experienced a lack of visibility during the actual production process which made it harder to track the status of orders or when they were completed.

“When a customer called and said ‘what’s the status of my order?’ we just wanted to go find that order,” Moore says.

Or better yet, the company hoped to eliminate the need for customers to call at all. So Protime began working with Xemelgo on an RFID-based system to manage work orders. They installed NordicID fixed UHF RFID readers at key locations throughout the facility.

Reducing Time Wasted

The company imports blank uniforms, adds the sponsor team logo as well as player names and numbers as per order. When an order is initiated, Protime staff members use a Zebra RFID printer to print a passive RFID tag, and then apply it to the paper workorder.

That workorder then goes to the pulling area, passing an RFID reader to update the order status. Workers fill a tray with the necessary blank uniform types and sizes, and then forward the tray to the next production area.

At the manufacturing floor, an RFID reader captures the tag ID to updated the order’s status. Once the application of logos and other details is completed, it order proceeds to the packing and shipping areas where more RFID readers update the order once more. There are currently five fixed readers in place to track through production, packing and shipping.

Cloud-based software

Protime uses QuickBooks management software, integrated to Xemelgo’s cloud-based software so that the RFID data is paired with the existing software system.

“Thus, there is no complex on-prem software to deploy under someone’s desk or in an IT closet,” says Xemelgo’s Rogers.

“They don’t need to worry about upgrading or securing any local IT infrastructure. Everything is taken care of for them automatically. And the user simply downloads the app on their mobile device and off-they-go,” he adds.

Handhelds to Search for Orders

Additionally, there are some congestion points where orders may build up, and that’s where handheld RFID readers are used, according to Moore.

With the Xemelgo solution, employees simply pull out their phone, type in what they’re looking for, and the app tells them exactly where it is. Workers can use the handheld RFID reader to locate one order in a crowded area as well. Before the RFID solution, workers would have to look through items, visually inspecting the work order IDs, to find the specific item that they are looking for.

Once the uniforms are shipped to the customer, the work orders go to Protime’s invoicing department and the following morning they get invoiced. That action automatically closes the order.

“We don’t have to manually go in and close the ticket, so there’s another savings,” Moore says.

Installation Challenges

The installation posed several challenges for the technology. Protime Sports has high ceilings, so Xemelgo had to select a powerful reader that could be deployed from the ceiling down.

“We went with the Nordic ID AR 85 that is based on Impinj technology [integrated circuit],” says Rogers.

He adds that Xemelgo provided a “last mile” software integration with ProTime’s QuickBooks solution to connect Xemelgo to their existing business system.

The installation costs were less than $25,000, along with a relatively low recurring software subscription.

“We know it’s saving a tremendous amount of frustration because employees … spent so much time looking for orders. They’re certainly spending less time doing that,” says Moore.

ROI Recouped

After the installation, the company expanded the technology use to include the logos that come in from third parties or from the art department. The logos are typically stored in a clear, zip-lock bag and the company has acquired a second Zebra printer where they print tags that are linked to the logos in the software, and then applied to the plastic bag. The company is installing three more fixed readers to capture the logo tags.

As it was, before the technology was adopted, Moore says many workers were having to leave their workstation “to look for an order and they’re away from their real job for 30 minutes looking for something.”

Protime has already seen a return on its investment, says Moore. He estimates that the technology not only paid for itself in the first year but will spare the growing company from employing people who would have been needed to look for orders and logos.

Key Takeaways:
  • Since deploying an RFID system at its production facility, Protime Sports’ employees have cut back the searching time that took away from their production tasks.
  • The solution from Xemelgo tracks each workorder with fixed and handheld readers.