Commercial laundry companies have been RFID-tagging and tracking uniforms and linens for more than 15 years to identify customers' items, which must be sorted, cleaned, packaged and loaded on the correct truck for delivery. More recently, casinos, fitness clubs, hospitals, hotels, theme parks and other organizations have begun using RFID to track laundry items, to improve asset visibility and reduce the number of stolen towels.
"Laundry tracking manually is very labor-intensive, because keeping detailed records requires that different types of laundry items must be separated, counted, recorded on paper and then later entered into a computer," says Jeff Welles, VP of RFID laundry solution provider InvoTech Systems. "RFID automatically identifies, counts and records the items without even separating or sorting."
While laundry-tracking systems have been in use for a long time, recent advancements in the technology have led to price drops and increased performance, says Michael Liard, RFID director at VDC Research. Low-frequency and high-frequency solutions dominated the market in the early days, he says. Passive ultrahigh-frequency solutions able to withstand washing conditions have entered the market as lower-cost alternatives. In general, he adds, these systems cost approximately 20 percent less than the older offerings.
UHF RFID tags designed to withstand commercial laundry processes first became available in 2010, Welles says. "These tags each contain a unique ID number and are attached to each uniform or linen item to identify specific inventory items," he explains. "The UHF RFID laundry tags allow inventory items to be processed from a much farther distance than the RFID laundry tags that were previously available." The greater reading distance allows for entire laundry carts of uniforms or linens to be processed and the content recorded instantly, he adds.
Some companies hire a systems integrator to develop a laundry-tracking system; the integrator then purchases laundry tags from an RFID provider. Other firms design their own RFID laundry solutions. Disney, for instance, purchased passive UHF tags from Fujitsu Frontech North America and readers from ThingMagic, and created RFID software that integrates with its existing Garment Utilization System.
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