Nov 08, 2021The Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana opened its doors this spring with an RFID-based system that manages the uniforms and linens used by its staff. The solution, provided by InvoTech Systems, leverages UHF RFID to identify items as they are allocated to personnel, then are returned for laundering and received back from the laundry service. The latest deployment marks the tenth Hard Rock Casino property to install the InvoTech Uniform System.
Since its deployment this past May, the system has helped the facility to ensure garments are received, laundered and made available in a timely manner, and to identify any problems that may occur throughout the process, as well as the need to remove damaged garments, add items that are needed, or address cleaner or employee delinquencies. The RFID technology enables 100 percent control of the company's uniform inventory, while eliminating the need to hand-count or individually scan items, says Morgan Umali, InvoTech Systems' sales manager.
Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana, located in Gary, is a $300 million facility owned by Florida's Seminole Tribe. It includes 1,800 table games and slot machines, as well as high-limit rooms, onsite sportsbook, multiple bars, a retail Rock Shop and live music. The spring opening will be followed by a 200-room hotel and a parking structure, which are scheduled to be completed by 2023. The property represents the first casino to serve the Chicago, Northern Indiana and Lower Michigan areas. "It's our first casino in that region," a spokesperson says, "so it has the opportunity to capture a new customer base."
The company has a history of using automated systems for uniform tracking, leveraging barcodes and RFID with supporting software and reporting. Justin Armstrong, Seminole Hard Rock Support Services' VP of procurement and administration, says such solutions are "really the only acceptable methods for asset management, in most cases. If a location is not utilizing that technology, there is usually a negative cost impact."
Hard Rock had several options when it came to uniform tracking, the company reports. "Typically," Armstrong says, "we use the configuration that best suits the given size of the property, number of employees, space allocations and budget allowance." The solution employs a hybrid approach with UHF RFID tags sewn or heat-sealed into all owned garments. Rental garments, on the other hand—typically worn by cooks, stewards and other culinary workers—are tracked using a barcode that is heat-sealed inside.
When a new garment arrives at the property, staff members apply the RFID tag or barcode, then use a barcode scanner to enter the item into inventory. As each uniform is assigned to an employee, the unique ID number encoded on its tag is read again, and that worker's information is entered into the software and linked to that particular garment. Its status is then updated as "assigned," while other items in the backstock are categorized as "unassigned." As Armstrong explains, "Each RFID tag or barcode is like the fingerprint of the garment. It is unique to that garment, and once assigned to a team member, it is specific to them also."
With the item assigned to an employee, its tag is read at three locations during use. First, when workers pick up their uniforms in the garment room, the tagged items—a pair of trousers and a shirt, for instance—are carried past an RFID antenna in the doorway. The data is captured and the software updates the status as "picked up," and thus in use by an employee. Since each garment is assigned to a specific worker, the software knows who is taking the uniform. As employees end their shift and remove their uniforms, they place them in a chute that empties into a dirty laundry-receiving area. An RFID antenna at that location captures the tag ID and updates the software once more.
This feature removes the need for intensive labor, Umali says, and allows employees to remain safe in their workplaces. The garments are then sent to the casino's laundry facility. Once the laundered and folded uniforms are returned to the casino, they are placed on a conveyor belt, where an RFID reader antenna reads each tag ID a third time, indicating the garments have been returned. All unassigned inventory is scanned minimally twice per year as part of a full inventory-reconciliation process, enabling the casino to identify any missing items. If a garment is damaged or has not been returned by a former staff member, it is deleted from inventory.
The solution's value lies in its ability to know which garments are being used, which have not been returned and which require replacement, the company explains, and the software can alert management to any discrepancies. For instance, if employees do not return garments, or if the cleaning facility delays uniforms' return, management can view that information and address the problem. The software provides monthly reporting to help property managers conduct analytics, such as how often loaner garments are needed, the number of purchases made, and how and when inventory is damaged. "This can be expanded greatly to suit individual property needs or preferences," Armstrong states.
However, the spokesperson notes, having the technology in place cannot solve problems if employees do not properly use it. "As with any technology," this individual says, "it is only as good as the user using it. Accuracy is paramount." That means ensuring the solution is being properly employed, with tag reads taking place, and that the software is being properly reviewed. "Generally speaking," Armstrong states, "if management or employees are following established standards and doing the data analysis effectively, the system is doing most of the work."
The casino has attached RFID tags to 1,200 garments to date. Since the system was deployed, Umali reports, the InvoTech Uniform System has eliminated many labor-intensive manual tasks, such as separating and hand-counting uniforms being sent to the laundry, thereby providing a safe, contactless workflow. The system also automates record keeping, which he says has eliminated manual errors.
"All of this automation cuts labor costs," Umali adds, "and provides real-time information for ongoing cost-saving benefits." In the future, the casino expects to continue seeking ways to improve the software's functionality as technology evolves. That means initially working closely with InvoTech to upgrade reporting capabilities within the current software.