Industrial Laundry Facility Cleans Up With RF/ID
Radio frequency/identification helps this end user track the 16,000 pieces it cleans daily.
Because of the high level of competition in the industrial laundry business, customer satisfaction is the name of the game.
For industrial laundry facilities, customer satisfaction goes beyond professionally laundering and pressing garments. These facilities also have to ensure that they return the right garments to their customers.
On the surface, that may seem like a simple requirement for industrial launderers like Textilease Corporation (Sumter, SC). However, it certainly isn't when one considers that:
- Textilease launders garments for 2,400 different customers, including restaurants, manufacturing plants, auto body shops and automobile dealerships' service centers. Textilease typically launders employee uniforms for these customers.
- Some of Textilease's larger customers have several hundred employees.
- Textilease typically launders 16,000 pieces a day.
Employee uniforms – even those from different customers – can look very similar.
Textilease is relying on a radio frequency/identification (RF/ID) system from Micron Communications, Inc. to accurately track its inventory of garments. Micron Communications, located in Boise, ID, is a subsidiary of Micron Technology, Inc. Micron Communications provides RF/ID systems for applications like automated fueling and asset management. For the nine months ended May 28, 1998, Micron Technology's sales were $2.32 billion. Micron Technology has more than 12,000 employees.
Says Will Hudson, production supervisor for Textilease, "The last thing we want to do is lose a customer because we gave them the wrong uniforms. RF/ID has helped us avoid that situation."
Users' Processes Dictate Need For Accurate Tracking
Textilease, which is staffed by 100 employees, uses this process to launder garments and other items:
Textilease's drivers pick up garments from customers. After returning to Textilease's facility, the drivers put the garments in large bags and weigh them.
At that point, the bags – some of which weigh 200 pounds – go to the washrooms on a conveyor belt. There, the garments are laundered and dried.
At that point, workers place the garments on hangers, and hang the hangers on a rack-like mechanism. (This mechanism moves the garments through the facility similar to the way that a conveyor belt moves packages through a distribution center). This mechanism automatically runs the garments through a steam tunnel, which presses them.
After coming out of the steam tunnel, the garments are prepared for delivery back to the customer.
RF/ID: Automating Garment Tracking
Textilease used to manually sort and separate garments after they were laundered and dried. At that time, each garment had a small label affixed to the inside of the garment. Workers used human-readable numbers on these small labels to sort the garments for different customers. However, such a sorting process was time consuming and prone to error, Hudson says.
RF/ID tags and readers supplied by Micron have allowed Textilease to automate its sorting. Now, when Textilease's workers place garments on hangers, they also affix a small RF/ID tag to each hanger. This tag identifies which customer owns the garment.
As the rack-like mechanism runs garments through the facility, the garments pass by strategically-placed, fixed-mount RF/ID readers. These stationary readers emit radio waves that read information encoded in the RF/ID tags. Reading the tags allows Textilease to sort and route garments accordingly.
In addition, the RF/ID tags serve other purposes, such as customer service. In essence, when a tag is read, the system is making a record of the fact that Textilease cleaned a shirt for a specific customer. When a tag is read, the name of the customer, and the type of garment, is transmitted to Textilease's local area network. That way, employees can use desktop PCs to pull up the number of garments laundered for different customers.
Garment quantities are valuable, because some customers later claim Textilease lost some of their garments. "Some customers think they sent us more garments than they did," Hudson explains. "However, the system makes an accurate record of how many garments we clean for each client."
Hudson concludes, "Automating a pen and paper-based system improves efficiency. RF/ID allows us to operate efficiently, and become more competitive. When we can operate more efficiently because of technology, we don't have to raise our prices."