Managing the entire uniform inventory and the lifecycle of each individual garment from purchasing through daily use, cleaning, and dispensing all the way to final disposal, requires a comprehensive system within the company. The interoperability of such system is especially important when the cleaning or laundering is being outsourced.
There are various ways how to manage laundry and uniforms but three most efficient ones stand out; barcode, RFID and NFC technology, and each have their own uses and advantages.
Commercial laundry companies have been using RFID technology to track customer items for many years, however, with today’s technology improvements (more durable tags, longer read ranges and lower prices), the applications are expanding to casinos, fitness clubs, hospitals, hotels and theme parks (for instance Disney).
The RFID and NFC technologies work by electronically reading RFID tags attached to the uniforms, allowing them to be automatically identified, counted and tracked at every step of the way. How does such system work?
Each uniform has an RFID tag attached or sewn in after the garment is purchased and is entered into the inventory including the tag’s unique ID. This can be done one by one using a handheld RFID reader or in batches using an RFID portal. As the uniform moves to the storage location, gets dispensed to the employees, gets picked up after use and sent for laundering, the inventory system updates the item’s status and location. The system further captures:
- Person responsible for each uniform
- Quantity of garments that each employee has
- Uniform loss (helps identify at which point the uniform was lost and when)
- Daily uniform assignments, locker and conveyor assignments
- Laundry activity (to monitor losses, costs and correct charging)
- Uniform life-span (usage and number of laundry cycles as well as repairs and alterations)
Such system has many advantages:
- Eliminates many labor-intensive manual tasks, such as separating and hand-counting uniforms being sent to the laundry.
- Automatically processes laundry in batches, carts and racks for automated shipping and receiving.
- Fast on the spot inventory count using a handheld or fixed readers.
- Ultimate visibility of uniform location and status, length of time at each location (especially in the laundry facility or cleaners).
- Allows for FIFO processing (to ensure equal wear and laundry)
- Automated issue and tracking uniform items based upon a pre-determined Item Issue List. (For this, the Uniformed Services issue group, creates a list of specific uniform items to be picked for 1st Issue, 2nd Issue, etc. The items are then picked for each individual, placed in a bin and scanned on an RFID-enabled table. A color-coded screen identifies, which items were picked as compared to the Issue list. Any discrepancies on item number, size, quantity, color, etc. as compared to the Issue list and individual, are highlighted on the display screen.)
- Automated dispensing cabinets where employees can collect their uniform. After the employees scan their ID badge, the cabinet door unlocks and they are presented with their assigned uniform. Garments are returned for cleaning by throwing them into an assigned cart or sending them down a chute where a reader will register their return.
As mentioned earlier, there are several options to track uniforms and commercial laundry using technologies such as RFID, NFC and Barcode. In the next post we will go into more detail about RFID tracking.