TS013-Material Management in Garment Manufacturing

Material Management in Garment Manufacturing
Darshan Bilagi
Department of Textile Technology
DKTE Engineering College ,Icchalkaranji, India
In the field of textile and apparel, radio frequency identification (RFID), is one of the most optimistic technological innovations, which is used in manufacturing, inventory control, warehousing, distribution, logistics, automatic object tracking and supply chain management. Different retailers and manufacturers such as CVS, Tesco, Prada, Benetton, Walmart and Procter & Gamble, are now implementing this technology and exploring the effect of the technology on their business. RFID technologies may increase the potential benefits of supply chain management through reduction of inventory losses; improve of the efficiency and speed of processes and improvement of information accuracy. The basic of success lies in understanding the technology and other features to reduce the potential problems. Although the technology existed for several years, the technical challenges and cost issues are the major hurdles for the widespread use of RFID
The rapid pace in which the technological innovations are being introduced in the world poses a potential challenge to the retailer, supplier, and enterprises. In the field of Information Technology (IT) there is a rapid growth in the last 30 years. One of the most promising technological innovations in IT is radio frequency identification (RFID). The RFID technology was evolved in 1945 as an espionage tool invented by Leon Theremin for the Soviet Government. At that time it was mainly used by the military. The progress in microchip design, antenna technology and radio spread spectrum pushed it into various applications like supply chain management, retail, automatic toll collection by tunnel companies, animal tracking, ski lift access, tracking library books, theft prevention, vehicle immobilizer systems, railway rolling stock identification, movement tracking, security, healthcare, printing, textiles and clothing. RFID can make the companies more competitive by changing the related processes in supply chain, manufacturing and retailing.
RFID systems:
Technology of RFID system:
Radio frequency identification is an automatic identification method consisting of several components such as tags, tag readers, edge servers, middleware, and application software. RFID reader (also known as transceiver or interrogator) and software for data processing. An RFID tag is a small object that can be attached to or embedded into a product, animal, or person. It consists of a tiny chip where the data is stored and an antenna to enable it to receive and respond to radio-frequency queries from an RFID transceiver. The tags contain electronic product code (EPC) and the information related to the product like the name of the company, batch and year of manufacturing, price etc.

What is RFID?
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is an identification method that is similar in function to a bar code on a garment product or shipping carton.

A RFID with chip and antenna.
RFID technology has three components: microchip tags that carry the data, antennas that send the data, and readers that interpret the data. Cartons or products using RFID technology carry a transponder made from a microchip attached to an antenna like the one pictured here. It can be very small but read distance performance will depend on size. These tags are placed in a Garment product without affecting its comfort & Aesthetic properties, for example, the tag might be in a seam or hem or in a paper carton label. The RFID readers can be placed in the entry of a warehouse and, depending upon the size and frequency of the RFID used; it can be read up to 20 feet though most in use today read only about 2 to 10 feet.

Material used in RFID Tags:

  • Chip sizes can less than 10mm, 8mm etc.
  • Double copper antenna reading distance can reach to around 2CM
  • PET waterproof, resistance of chemical and heating
  • Wet inlay or custom LOGO printing
  • Can be anti-metal
  • Shape and size can be customized

Frequency band
100–500 kHz (low)
Short to medium read range; inexpensive; low reading speed
Access control; animal identification; inventory control; car immobilizer
10–15 MHz (intermediate)
Short to medium read range; potentially inexpensive; medium reading speed
Access control; smart cards; library control
850–950 MHz, 2.4–5.8 GHz (high)
Long read range; high reading speed; line of sight required; expensive
Railway vehicle monitoring; toll collection systems; pallet and container tracking; vehicle tracking
(Data taken from radio frequency identification—a basic primer, Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility, August 2001, http://www.aimglobal.org and from Wikipedia Encyclopedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RFID.)

World trade organization (WTO) is continuously thriving to facilitate international trade by reducing barriers which assists the manufacturing process of fashion products to low cost countries. Profitability in fashion industries are going down due to the competitive nature of business, thus requiring better coordination between all the partners in supply chain. Fashion companies dominating the market at some stage have lost their market share to the emerging companies like Zara, H&M and Benetton as the business strategy of these companies involves more inventory turns and they offer wider range of assortments giving rise a concept of “Fast Fashion”. All these changes in fashion industry need to capture new technologies and using them wisely, which can reduce lead time, cost and most importantly efficiently manage the inventory. Among the new technologies, RFID is of particular interest as it has capability of providing solutions to some of these issues.

Types of RFID systems:
Passive RFID tags have no internal power supply. The minute electrical current induced in the antenna by the incoming radio frequency signal provides just enough power for the integrated circuit (IC) in the tag to power up and transmit a response. Most passive tags signal by backscattering the carrier signal from the reader. This means that the aerial (antenna) has to be designed to both collect powers from the incoming signal and also to transmit the outbound backscatter signal. The tag chip can contain nonvolatile EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory) for storing data. Lack of an onboard power supply means that the device can be quite small: commercially available products exist that can be embedded under the skin. As of 2005, the smallest such devices commercially available measured 0.4 mm × 0.4 mm, and is thinner than a sheet of paper; such devices are practically invisible. Passive tags have practical read distances ranging from about 2 mm up to about few meters depending on the chosen radio frequency.
Semi-passive RFID tags are very similar to passive tags except for the addition of a small battery. This battery allows the tag IC to be constantly powered. This removes the need for the aerial to be designed to collect power from the incoming signal. Aerials can therefore be optimized for the backscattering signal. Semi-passive RFID tags are faster in response as compared to passive tags. Active RFID tags or beacons, on the other hand, have an internal power source which is used to power any ICs and generate the outgoing signal. They may have longer range and larger memories than the passive tags, as well as the ability to store additional information sent by the transceiver. At present, the smallest active tags are about the size of a coin. Many active tags have practical ranges of tens of meters, and a battery life of up to 10 years. As passive tags are cheaper to manufacture and have no battery, the majority of RFID tags in existence are of this variety.
Applications of RFID in fashion industry:
In the field of Textile and Apparel the RFID is used in manufacturing, inventory control, warehousing, distribution, logistics, automatic object tracking and supply chain management. For example, the finished garments, different pattern pieces and accessories can be traced and the progress of the production process can be monitored. In processing and weaving, the fabric lots can be traced easily. In spinning mills, the bales of cotton and the yarns can be traced easily. The mixing of different yarn lots which is a major problem in spinning mills can be avoided.
A range of problems unique to fashion industry can be solved by installing the RFID system in various processes involved in fashion supply chain. Fashion industry can be divided into four sectors such as manufacturing, overseas transportation, distribution and retailing. In manufacturing RFID can be used to avoid product and component mixing, and mixing of different accessories. In overseas transportation RFID can be used to track and trace the consignment before and after Free on Board, if product is outsourced. RFID primarily can solve the issue of sorting and tracking the product very quickly, thus reducing the lead time during distribution. In majority of the retail shops, the space is a constraint, which needs to be used efficiently. RFID is used to manage the stock to identify the item quickly and correctly so as to avoid “search regret”, and thus help to solve the problem.
Inventory management
The use of RFID system assists in better inventory management and enhances customer shopping experience. The RFID system can indicate the type of clothing selling faster or slower, which provide customized advertisement on picked clothes according to the RFID tags. The RFID use also helps in reducing labor. For example, American Apparel applied RFID system in eight of their stores, which saved about 60–80 h per week in labor and reduced out-of-stock products owing to unawareness. Similarly, the Japanese apparel manufacturer ‘Sankei’ is using a RFID system in manufacturing to track clothes during the manufacturing process in addition to the online sales. A successful case study has been conducted by Kaufhaulf departmental store in Europe on the impact of RFID on their processes and supply chain .They have concluded that RFID can be used in warehousing to track the goods and assist in cross docking operation as the goods received are not segregated in the warehouse but stored as they are received from the manufacturer. In the distribution center’s receivable area RFID readers can be implemented to track the goods as they come in. The received goods are registered and the data stored on RFID transponders can be read for each good though received in pallets or individual fashion item on hanger. In this the task of counting hangers, items and pallets can be eliminated and quantity can be controlled up to 100% satisfaction level.

Production control:
Inside the stores of the production department the stock level can be quickly monitored which helps in a real-time and efficient inventory management. The location and movement of the components, semi-finished and the finished products can be detected by the RFID system, which helps in production monitoring and control. The performance of departments and the individuals can be evaluated by the rate of movement of the garment components from the departments or individuals. This helps in improving the productivity and the quality. In the packing floor the mixing of different styles and sizes can be avoided by RFID tags. Also the number of pieces in packed cartons can be counted without opening, which saves the time and labour.

Retail management:
It can be used in retail to monitor and control the floor level out-of-stocks (OOS). It is mostly required where there is high product display density, low staffing level and chances of mishandling is very high. The stock level of the items is properly maintained and the items can be grouped according to their demand. Similarly, while receiving the goods at the store the accuracy of the deliveries can be ensured quickly with less labour. This can improve the inventory accuracy and automatic replenishment of stock. Mostly the retailers were verifying the accuracy and integrity of the shipment by open-box audit prior to stocking or storing of goods. But now it is possible to read all the items packed inside the carton without opening, which saves time and labour cost. So the RFID provides a new horizon to the retailers in receiving of materials, which eliminates the invoice disputes, mixing of different quality products etc.
The RFID has been used by number of major retailers in Europe and USA. Walmart is among the early adopters of RFID throughout their supply chain and the suppliers working with Walmart had been under pressure to implement RFID in their supply chain component as well. The reason of implementing RFID in line with Walmart’s corporate strategy of being cost competitiveness and faster response. After successfully implementation and use of RFID by Walmart, other big retailers like Marks and Spencer and Tesco in UK are adopting it. Fashion industry is always regarded as the late adopter of new technology than others, but in adopting RFID it is not lagging behind.
The theft of garments from the fitting room can be prevented by mounting a small reader at the entry point of the room. The tag information of the garment is captured when the customer takes the garment to the fitting room. The items that are taken to the fitting room but not come out are reported as potential loss items. So the RFID can be used to identify the missing merchandise and prosecution of the shoplifters. In addition, the dislocation of the clothes is automatically detected and customers can be given advice on the fitting of the clothes they are trying on. The later task can be achieved by the use of smart try-out cabins and smart mirrors. The smart mirror can advise on additional clothing and fashion accessories. Companies such as Marks and Spencer, Levi Strauss & Co. are installing RFID to acquire data on the amount of stocks every day so that the stock can be replenished. However, significant difference was observed between the data received from the RFID systems and the actual inventory levels.
The store merchandise recovery and replenishment process presently used is completely manual, unsystematic and ineffective. Also it requires a very long time and high labour force and some popular items are not replenished for weeks. This can be overcome by RFID technology. The tags help to estimate the stock level frequently and there is an in-stock position improvement up to 30%. This has a positive impact on sales and customer satisfaction. It prevents the fashion or the seasonal merchandise to lie undetected in the back room and to be sold at significant markdowns thus improving the profit margin.
Also at the point of sales the RFID tag can be read quickly and it avoids the physical handling of the product as in barcode system. The RFID tags can be placed at the side seams or hem or in a paper cartoon label without affecting the aesthetic feel of the garment. The number of items sold is automatically adjusted from the amount of stock. Hence, the customers can be informed about the status/stock of merchandise by interactive display screens. The use of RFID tags has helped to reduce the out of stock rate of Wal-mart by 16% and RFID enabled stores were 63% more effective in replenishing out-of-stocks than control stores.

RFID for brand segregation:
It will be quite beneficial to adopt RFID system for departmental stores, which stocks a range of products and brands under one roof. The different brands can be controlled in terms of their inventory and location quite easily using RFID whereas it would be quite challenging task to segregate the brands in case they are mixed. RFID also reduces the human error as this technology is least human dependent when monitoring the inventory level, brand identification and product authenticity.
Radio frequency identification can also be used to avoid illegal product alteration to grey market and increasing product security and to give information about shopping behavior of customer at retail. Having all these issues solved, textile and fashion supply chain can be made more streamlined and efficient in terms of cost and performance.

RFID used in fitting room:
Radio frequency identification technology is used in the fitting room in a new approach by a German departmental store “Galeria Kaufhof in Essen”, (part of the Metro retailing group). Automatic suggestions are provided to men buying clothes in the store when they go to a dressing room to try a suit. A ‘smart mirror’ informs them what kind of suit or accessories will be appropriate. An RFID reader on the smart mirror in the fitting room determines which clothing has been brought into the room from the RFID tag attached to the apparel. The appropriate accessories are then displayed on a suitable interface. This system is used in combination with ‘smart shelves’, which can read what merchandise is currently in stock, so that customers can be shown various styles and sizes that are available.

RFID tags for care labeling:
The recent care labels are printed or woven labels storing limited information. The electronic labels use RFID tags for storing information electronically on a garment. The same RFID tag used for containing the product details at the point of sale cannot be used for storing the wash care instructions, due to the privacy concerns. Hence, additional tags are needed for the wash care instructions, which will increase the cost of the garment. In addition, the consumers need special readers to extract the information stored in the RFID tag. Hence, they will prefer the physical label instead of an electronic label. Furthermore, the use of RFID tags in the garment, may pose health risks to the consumers due to the exposure to radiation.
The use of RFID tags is still in its infancy stage. Hence, it is too early to conclude the final shape of RFID tag and its impact on consumers. One of the industries observed benefits to the consumers by including washing instructions in the tag. In Germany, RFID chips are being used in nursing homes to help the nurses in correctly sorting the garment according to care instructions. Hence, there is a potential benefit of RFID tags to the consumers. However, all the major drawbacks should be overcome to make RFID tags a success.

Customer relationship management:
It is quite imperative to understand the needs and taste of customers especially in fashion industry to offer them the right product of their match. From a study on the use of RFID in fashion retailing and reflected that different customers behaved different at different time in their shopping experience and knowing them in depth regarding their shopping experience was very important so that sales personnel could provide them with personalized services. The interviewee in their study said that if the customer entered into the store and picked few item connected to RFID technology that would provide signal of their pattern of choices on that day so tailored advice can be provided by sales staff. As competition is intense between the brands so it is important to satisfy the customers by knowing their choice by creating their history of purchases, especially for high-end products. By creating their profile, age group, choice trend, preferred styles etc. the professional suggestion can be provided upon their next purchase so that they feel taken care of. Other significance of using RFID is to be in constant contact with VIP customers, even if the staff member quits the job.As customers preferences are different so as their buying behavior and pattern, RFID can be used to interact product with the consumer to suit their choices and assist them making purchase decision. Subsequently the customers can be offered customized assistance to cater to their choices thus increasing the revenue.
Conclusion and future trends of RFID in Apparel Industry:
The use of RFID systems in textiles is rapidly increasing. In future almost all the manufacturers, distributors and retailers in textile business will be using the RFID system. Although, RFID systems cannot completely replace the barcode technology, due to higher cost but the accuracy, speed and the return on investment is high in RFID system. RFID system is a promising technology, which will become ubiquitous in the future helping organizations to solve problems in supply chain management, security, personal identification and object tracking.

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  1. One of the best articles I have come accross

  2. Nice trchnological idea, it will be necessity in mere future.

  3. Very useful idea...it helps a lot
    in future, awesome...darshan

  4. A very informative and a technological idea based article. Liked its idea of the implementation.