Systemizing laundry handling with RFID
The RFID technology is largely known in the apparel industry. Companies like the Inditex brand Zara, the german fashion retailer Adler or Gerry Weber already rely on it and expect more transparency as well as savings up to several millions of euros from it. In the professional clothing sector, the tiny technology expands in a large scale and with a wide impact. Especially for leasing and laundry service companies RFID is more than useful. Thanks to the little tags, washing instructions, repair information, age, source and other information of textiles are easy to get. Thus, it was obvious to make use of this technology in the hotel, gastronomy and catering industry, too.
“The technology used in hospitals or for the hotel and catering industry is quite different”, says Marco Barteld from ProHomeTex. The project focuses equipping home and household textiles with the RFID technology during their production. Four partners, the German manufacturer of home textiles Brändl Textil, sewing machine expert Pfeil, the Saxonian Textile Research Institute (STFI) at Technical University (TU) Chemnitz and Erteks (Turkey) worked together on it. One of the biggest challenges was to integrate RFID chips and alternative antennas in the small hem of tableware or napkins. The sewing machines were modified so that from now on, the integration of RFID tags and antenna material is possible during the production process.
The newly designed RFID components operate in the mega hertz range and have a significantly wider reach than comparable RFID chips in clothing. “Thus, big bulks with up to 500 items in trucks or fully stuffed bags can be scanned from far away”, says Barteld. Besides, the identification of the items is easy and safe. “There is no data saved on the tags, but only special numbers, which lead to product information on the basis of the company’s data bank.”
Another essential challenge was to make the RFID technology resistant to heat, water and pressure. Hospital, home and household textiles should be washed at 60°C or even boiling temperature. They have to resist high temperatures during finishing and a pressure of up to 60 bar. Technologically, all the requirements have been met. Under the label ProHomeTex hotels, medicine and rehabilitation centres can order towels, bed and table linen with RFID transponder i.e. at Brändl Textil. Cost per piece amounts to 50 – 60 cents. Every textile company can be supported with the ProHomeTex knowhow. Concepts, test results and further textile technological solutions can be provided. Besides, the STFI is able to offer performance tests for home and household textiles and to evaluate them on the basis of a certification label.
The ProHomeTex project (Funding Code KF2034051CJ2) was sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Economy and Energy as part of the Central Innovation Program for small and medium-sized enterprises ZIM.