Bi-Weekly Technology Communicator
Apparel Magazine’s Tech Conference
The third annual Tech Conference, produced by Apparel, FIDM and [TC]² was held in Los Angeles on November 11 at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). Mike Fralix and Jim Lovejoy represented [TC]² at the conference and exhibited [TC]²’s research projects and services.
Sponsoring companies exhibited and presented subjects of interest during the day. There were 3 to 4 concurrent sessions throughout the day, which appealed to a wide variety of interests. Numerous technologies were exhibited including supply chain software, PLM solutions, color measurement, RFID, product development tools, 3D visualization, body forms, fabric and fiber testing and elastic trim.
That evening, after the conference, Apparel magazine hosted an awards banquet for the 2004 industry All Stars. The award criteria are: innovation, excellence in management, a strong track record of growth, and corporate goodwill that reflects positively on the industry. The 10 winners are: American Apparel Inc., Brooks Brothers, Burlington Coat Factory, Elie Tahari Ltd., Hot Kiss, Dr. Ann Fairhurst of the University of Tennessee, L.C. King Manufacturing Co., Pacific Sunwear of California, Patagonia and Vital Apparel Group. Each award winner was nominated by a Tech Conference sponsoring organization. Brooks Brothers was nominated by [TC]².
The Grand Award winner is American Apparel Inc. based in Los Angeles with the largest apparel manufacturing factory operating in the United States - and growing. American Apparel was nominated by the SEAMS organization as an outstanding SEAMS member company. American Apparel’s culture is to provide excellent customer service with a highly motivated, fairly compensated domestic work force. The lead times for their products range from one or two days for a standard product to three weeks for a new product.
A new way of tracking purchases, goods, items, containers, pallets, etc., is on its way. It is called RFID: radio frequency identification. A tag will be placed on a container or item to uniquely identify it. The tag will incorporate an encoded RFID chip which contains standardized information. Depending on the industry or the application, this information can vary. In pharma applications, the pedigree of a drug may be insured. In manufacturing, the contents of cases on a pallet may be uniquely identified and that identity may be communicated electronically to a customer.
Historically, RFID is an “old” automatic identity technology. During World War II, it was used to distinguish friendly aircraft from enemy planes. During the 60’s and 70’s, RF transponders began to be used to track military equipment, cattle, and railcars. In the 80’s and 90’s, it became feasible to capture all the circuitry of an RF transponder, with the exception of the antenna, onto a single chip. These chips were used in a range of consumer applications such as toll passes, card-keys, and gas-pump payment systems. The cost of these tags often exceeded $1.00 and the software systems that supported them were specific to the intended application.
In 1999, M.I.T., the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, established the Auto ID Center specifically to create technologies, standards, and systems that would enable an “internet of things.” A key component of this type of internet was low-cost RFID tags. The standards proposed by the M.I.T. Center gained widespread support from end users of RFID technology, and resulted in the establishment of a new not-for-profit entity called EPCglobal, Inc. Working groups within EPCglobal have authored a number of hardware and software standards which are expected to drive the new world of standardized, low-cost, RFID applications.
The Electronic Product Code (EPC) Network was established as the global standard for immediate, automatic, and accurate identification of any item in the supply chain of any company, in any industry, anywhere in the world. “RFID technology is all about improving supply chain visibility. High visibility firms will be able to increase turns, reduce inventory days, and minimize out of stock conditions,” comments Bob Fulenwider of [TC]². “To get there, firms will need to understand the technology and build the appropriate infrastructure that will enable business benefits to flow from RFID.”
The system can be visualized as a series of layers. The lowest layer represents RFID tags. The second layer represents RFID readers and other sensing devices (scanners). Together the first two layers are the hardware portion of the EPC system. The readers and the other devices are tied together by the middleware (the third layer). This middleware absorbs data from the hardware and offers actionable information to applications such as warehouse systems or replenishment systems which represent the fourth layer.
RFID tags can be active or passive, and operate in a range of frequencies from 100 KHz to upwards of 2.5 GHz, however, there are national regulatory limits on what frequencies and how much power is available for RFID communications. Nations protect their frequency spectrum and auction it off for things like cellular telephony. RFID systems usually operate on Industrial-Scientific-Medical (ISM) bands, which are reserved for free use. EPCglobal has defined protocols for the connection between readers and tags in the 13.56 MHz ISM band (referred to as HF), which is standardized worldwide, and a range of frequencies referred to collectively as UHF. Besides differences in frequencies, differences in field strength or power levels affect how well RFID systems work in different parts of the world. At 13.56 MHz, the ranges permitted around the world are roughly the same.
Why is it necessary to consider different frequencies? RFID tag performance drops when the signal from the reader cannot propagate through obstacles. Different frequencies have different propagation characteristics. HF radiation propagates through moisture, plastics and paper better than UHF radiation. UHF has better range in free air and may therefore be preferable if you are tagging pallets that can be read from a distance.
The International Standards Organization (ISO) and other bodies have defined over 100 other RFID standards. By identifying the common requirements of a wide range of applications, EPCglobal has reduced the number of standards to 3 families: tags; readers and other sensing devices and applications.
“Top 10 Things CEOs Must Know About RFID” from the RFID Journal, April 2004
• Widespread adoption of RFID may take years, but it is inevitable
• RFID is infrastructure that needs to be leveraged across the entire enterprise
• RFID is not a panacea
• RFID is just the beginning
• Collaboration is key
• Success requires cultural change
• RFID strategy must be implemented globally
• The is no formula to calculate the costs and benefits
• Privacy is a serious issue
• The implementation must be assessed periodically.
*Background for this article was gleaned from a white paper “An Introduction to RFID In The Supply Chain” by MARC Global, 2004
VF Corporation is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of high quality, high value branded apparel including jeanswear, sportswear, and intimates. Some of its well-known brands include Wrangler, Lee, Rustler, Chic, Vassarette, Lily of France, Eastpak, JanSport, The North Face and Vans. It has divisions, or coalitions, in Belgium, Mexico, Spain, Italy, Argentina and Hong Kong.
In October of 1899, a group of investors launched the Reading Glove & Mitten Manufacturing Company in a 320 square foot factory. Renamed Vanity Fair Silk Mills in 1919, the company began manufacturing undergarments. To help continue its expansion, Vanity Fair became a public company in 1951.
Vanity Fair made its first acquisition, the Berkshire International Corporation, a producer of hosiery, in 1969. It also entered the jeans business by acquiring the H. D. Lee Company. To reflect the company’s diversity, Vanity Fair Mills changed its name to the VF Corporation.
VF doubled its size in 1986 by purchasing Blue Bell, Inc., creating the world’s largest publicly held apparel company, featuring brands such as Wrangler and Rustler jeans, Jantzen swimwear, JanSport backpacks, and Red Kap workwear.
In 2003, VF introduced the Curvation line with Queen Latifah as their spokesperson, and also acquired the Nautica brand.
As a forward-thinking company, Wal-Mart has embraced the newest supply chain technology, RFID, and has required all of its suppliers to have RFID tags on containers or pallets coming into its distribution centers beginning January 1, 2005. VF has risen to that challenge. RFID technology has a chip embedded in its tag, and is different from barcode technology in that the tag can be anywhere on the case. With a barcode, the label must be flat so that the barcode reader or scanner can “see” the lines of the code.
The RFID chip can be sensed by the reader at a distance away from the tag itself so that the tag does not have to pass directly under the reader. The current tags utilized by VF are passive tags or “license plates.” In an article in Consumer Goods Technology, Eric Anthony, VP of Information Technology for VF, stated, “Over the next three to five years, as RFID technology becomes more refined, we anticipate that item-level tagging will become a reality and VF will begin to mine true benefits.”
Anthony is very supportive of Wal-Mart, and in order to take RFID to the next level, carton level tagging needs to be perfected. “It’s our product sitting in their store that can benefit,” comments Anthony. “Six VF distribution centers will be running with RFID and the company will be 100% compliant by January 1, 2005,” says Anthony.
To learn more about VF Corporation, visit www.vfc.com
Cotton Incorporated Sourcing USA Summit, San Diego www.cottoninc.com
International Apparel Federation (IAF), Executive Committee, London www.iafnet.org
Caribbean-Central American Action Conference (C-CAA), Miami www.c-caa.org
National Retail Federation Annual Conference, Jacob Javits Center, New York www.nrf.com
AAFA Enterprise Competitiveness Council (ECC) Conference at Liz Claiborne Facility www.apparelandfootwear.org
AATCC Jet/Yarn Symposium, Charlotte www.aatcc.org
For detailed information about industry events, visit www.techexchange.com
Thanks to the techexchange site sponsors Blinco Systems Inc., Gerber Technology and Methods Workshop.
A Look Ahead
Nov. 28 - Dec 3 International Apparel Federation (IAF), Executive Committee, London
Dec. 6 Caribbean-Central American Action Conference (C-CAA), Miami
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