The application of RFID within the laundry sector is changing rapidly. The principles have been established for some time, but developing technology is bringing more users and potential users.

At Datamars, a pioneer for RFID laundry applications, internal figures put European laundry installations at over 400 and its own at 700 worldwide, with around 40% of these in Europe. On a corporate level, Datamars is seeing yearly growth of some 20% over the past five years.

The company says that reading speed and multi-read systems are crucial in extending its use within the laundry sector. Smaller chips have allowed it to be used with flatwork.

A further view on the current situation comes from ASSA-Abloy ITG (ITG), which represents a merger of several brands including ACG, Aontec, Omnikey Sokymat, VisionCard and Novocard de Brasil. It works with specialist ABG Systems to provide integrated solutions within the laundry market.

ITG says that in Europe RFID is most commonly used in laundries in Benelux, Germany, France and Scandinavia. Traditionally it was used for workwear and this is still important, especially in northern Europe.

However, hospitals and other healthcare services are now significant users. They see RFID both as a means of tracking linen and garment and of reducing the hygiene risks and also as a way to cut operating costs.

ITG also identifies the hotel and restaurant sector as potential users, but at present this market is still evaluating the application. These businesses understand the reasons but are worried about a mark-up in service charges, while the laundries are still trying to make the case for RFID for these customers.

The USA is also a key market for RFID where it is mainly used for uniforms and workwear, adds ITG.

ITG says that RFID solutions serve three purposes within the laundry: responding to customer requests for improved service; improving the service to strengthen the laundry’s position in the market; and reducing internal costs.

It is the second two functions that are most difficult to explain but a clear understanding of the benefits will bring fresh opportunities.

Datamars believes that an increasing number of end users are asking their laundries and garment rental suppliers for RFID solutions. High frequency (13.56MHz) transponders are opening up the market.

The company understands that more laundries, particularly in the healthcare sector, want to read bags of soiled garments and linen as they enter the plant. In many countries, this demand is being stimulated by legislation that bans the manual sorting of soiled hospital linen and garments.

But the same technology is also being used for cleaned items as it makes tracking here both faster and more accurate. Sterile packs can be checked before being delivered, without breaching hygiene.

Multi-read systems also allow flatwork to be checked in bulk. The spread of this technology is such that Datamars estimates that multi-read will be used in around 90% of new RFID projects.

At the recent Clean Show in Las Vegas, the company showed several products that represent a response to the trends it has outlined. These include the AST1300 gate antenna, a mobile unit that can be placed anywhere on the factory floor and used to read individual garments grouped together in bundles, and the AST1300 slingbag antenna for counting and identifying items in a standard laundry bag. Used with the 22mm LaundryChip, this antenna can read a bag of 400 items with nearly 100% accuracy in 90 seconds.

The company also showed its tunnel antenna for reading linen in bags or in bulk on a conveyor belt. As with the slingbag, this is easily integrated into the laundry line. The Z-rack antenna (AST1300 ZR) can track tagged garments on manual push and pull z-rack carts.

Tagsys is a specialist in RFID systems in a range of markets. In the laundry sector it has been working the Elis, the European rental laundry group. Tagsys says the basic advantage of RFID is that it allows textile handling operations to be automated with 100% accuracy, saving on labour costs. The chips have great advantages over barcodes. They can be read at any position within the garment or flatwork. They do not need to be visible or aligned with the reader. Multi-read stations can read several chips simultaneously.

The chips are also more robust than barcodes, as they can be transferred to another piece when linen wears out.

As RFID begins to take-off within the healthcare sector, Tagsys will be launching a tag that specifically targets this sector and the retirement home market.

The Ario 370HL is an ISO15693 laundry tag that is shaped like a button and can therefore be attached to residents’ garments unobtrusively. This will be available in the last quarter of this year.

Other Tagsys developments have included a stack antenna for reading bundles of linen and a smart cabinet for dispensing and collecting folded uniforms in medical environments. It allows staff to change garments as needed 24/7 while letting management track these transactions.

The company also says that its 3D RFID tunnel antenna is proving popular as it keeps an inventory of soiled items as they enter the plant, and can carry out the same task on clean items leaving the plant.

Developments from ITG include the Sokymat Logi tag 161 (13.56MHz, ISO 15693), which is 16mm diameter and less than 3mm thick. It is designed to meet the low target price of the laundry sector while withstanding its harsh environment. The tag’s anti-collision function allows a suitable reader to scan large quantities of these tags together.

As to the future for RFID in this sector, ITG sees interest increasing. This will apply particularly to flatwork, spurred by regulations such as UNI 14065 related to Risk Analysis Biocontamination Control. Additionally, as more companies seek ISO9001 certification, complete traceability within the laundry process will become essential. The new high frequency ISO15693 tags and reader systems will help to speed the the whole laundry process.

Tagsys also sees demand increasing. Tag prices will continuity to drop and they will become a commodity as the various RFID systems become compatible with each other. But it also believes that there will be a change in focus. It will not be the laundry that buys and fixes the tag but the garment and flatwork manufacturers, so laundries will be buying products already tagged.

The tag will be central to developments to optimise efficiency in the supply chain route from manufacturer to laundry via central warehouses and distribution centres owned by the laundry groups. This will lead to improved stock management both of garments and high value linen such as table cloths, sheets and robes.

Datamars sees demand increasingly driven by customer’s search for a good return on investment, and factors that help productivity such as reading speed and multi-read combined with accuracy.

Laundries will also want a range of solutions that allows them to be more flexible in the way they operate, such as mobile readers that can be taken to a customer’s premises or even carried on delivery trucks, to reduce arguments about missing garments. Such solutions could also include remote readers, so that customers drop garments into a machine, which identifies them, gives the customer a receipt and sends the same information to the laundry data base. The company also sees an increase in dispenser solutions for hotels, hospitals and restaurants.

As more data becomes available from ID systems, software to manage that data will also come to the fore. ABS Laundry Business Solutions produces one such package, the ABSSolute, and has just launched the latest version, no 8.

The package is designed specifically for textile rental companies handling various product categories from a range of different customers and that want to store this data in a single system. It can be used by single plants or groups with sites in several locations.

It provides for different types of service. For rental garments, it covers all aspects from contract management, ordering, purchasing, preparation, to labelling delivery and invoicing. It handles used and new garments and customer-owned items. Locker management and emblem handling are included. The system works with barcodes, data matrix, single or multi-read transponders.

For linen services, it will support all types of invoicing and order calculation, with delivery quantities based on soiled count, direct orders or those made via the web.

Specialised services can also be catered for. This could include the use of hand-held devices to track containers of linen at all times. It can work with barcodes or transponders.

Versions for washroom, dustmat and direct sale items are also available.

Another development is the ABSSolute dashboard, described as the ultimate analysis tool.

This combines the functions of the laundry information system, handling contract management, ordering, delivery and billing with time and attendance modules, and covering staff allocation and production times per machine or production line, before feeding this data to a payroll system.

The dashboard makes different aspects of data management available together on one interactive screen, so customers can ask questions to find the information they need to make the best decisions for their business.

FULL ANALYSIS: The ABSSolute dashboard is a said to be a complete analysis tool that can bring together data on production and on staff working dashboard ROBUST DESIGN. The Sokymat Logi 161 chip is a high frequency tag , just 16mm diameter and less than 3mm thick which will withstand the mechanical action, temperatures and chemicals found in a laundry Logi Tag IN THE BAG: The Datamars Slingbag antenna can read up to 400 bagged items in 90seconds slingbag antenna DISPENSING: The Tagsys allows medical staff to change uniforms as needed round the clock while keeping track of of such transactions Tagsys