Embedded RFID for apparel at the center of recent acquisition
Avery Dennison Smartrac intends to market UHF RFID products that can be sewn or embedded into garments to provide loss prevention and tracking functionality for the life of a product.
As a growing number of retailers have adopted UHF RFID technology for inventory management, many are now looking for ways to make more use of the tags applied to their products, to gain more benefits and reduce costs. One area that retailers have shown interest in is loss prevention, whereby an RFID reader at a door could identify, via RFID tags, any merchandise removed from the store without being purchased.
With this and other use cases in mind, Avery Dennison Smartrac acquired TexTrace, an integrated RFID products company, with a strategy to provide textile RFID tags that stay on garments for their entire lifespan. either in a sewn label or integrated into the seam of a product. By taking advantage of embedded RFID, the companies say, retailers could prevent losses because tags cannot be easily removed.
Additionally, TexTrace and Avery Dennison anticipate future applications of RFID in recycling end-of-life garments, provided the technology is integrated into those garments.
TexTrace was founded in Frick, Switzerland over ten years ago with the goal of manufacturing custom woven RFID tags for the fashion industry. The company has licensed its technology to apparel service bureaus, including Avery Dennison, which supplies the inductive coupling antenna used for the embedded tags. The acquisition, announced on February 1, gives Avery Dennison ownership of the TexTrace intellectual property portfolio. Avery Dennison says employees will continue to operate out of Frick’s office.
A global retailer, who asked to remain anonymous, is embedding TexTrace labels in its garments, while Avery Denison is in talks with other potential customers. Further development is planned to make textile-based labels more resistant to repeated washing. Currently, the labels can withstand around four or five wash cycles, while the company predicts that future versions could withstand hundreds of wash cycles.
Avery Dennison plans to provide TexTrace technology for use throughout the life of a garment so that labels can be read throughout the supply chain, in stores and by waste management companies. waste when garments are discarded, ensuring labels are properly recycled or reused.
Over the past few years, says Mathieu De Backer, Senior Director of Segment Innovation at Avery Dennison Smartrac, “we are seeing an increase in the demands for embedded technologies in the apparel industry.” Part of the company’s vision, he says, is “a future where the digital will always be connected to the physical world, so that every physical item will have a digital entity.”
The acquisition of TexTrace, explains De Backer, aims to continue this effort. As more retailers already using RFID are now looking for ways to further leverage the technology, says De Backer, loss prevention comes to the fore. Traditional Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) often involves a hard tag that must be affixed to garments in the store and then removed at the point of sale. The cost of the tags, he notes, as well as the labor required to use them, can be relatively expensive and time-consuming.
By acquiring TexTrace and offering its technology as an alternative to paper hangtags, Avery Dennison aims to enable loss prevention for use cases where EAS technology has been used in the past.
EAS, De Backer explains, can trigger alarms without offering intelligence related to what is being removed, whereas RFID provides that intelligence. In order to use RFID for loss prevention, he says, companies need the technology to be embedded into clothing. Otherwise, it is too easy for individuals to rip off the tags and walk out of a store with the clothes, leaving the tags behind.
In addition to loss prevention, reports Avery Dennison, another benefit of embedded RFID is its ability to track the life of a garment. When clothes are thrown away, they often end up in a waste stream, such as at a recycling station where products are sorted according to their materials. If RFID functionality is built into every garment and the recycling provider interrogates its tag with an RFID reader, the company could capture data such as the materials incorporated into the product (cotton or polyester, for example), so that it can be properly sorted for recycling or reuse.
Currently, sorting recycled products is a manual process. Workers can sit in front of a pile of garments, visually examining each tag and determining which items are polyester and which are polyimide. “Everything is manual,” says De Backer. “If you could think of automating the sorting process with an RFID tag, I think that’s powerful.” Because the process would be more efficient this way, Avery Dennison predicts that it will put more clothes back into recycling so the material doesn’t end up in a landfill.
“I think as RFID becomes a more integrated part of clothing, you can also enable circularity within the clothing industry,” says De Backer. For example, the company envisions embedded RFID tags as a benefit for apparel rental or leasing, with customers acquiring garments and then returning them to vendors for reuse by others. To make such use cases possible, the company intends to continue designing the chip to improve its robustness.
For manufacturers, says De Backer, applying textile-based tags or embedding RFID directly into garments, typically sewn into the seam, may not be significantly different from applying fabric-based tags. paper. While service bureaus currently offer RFID tags as hang tags, now they could simply provide a flexible tag that could be sewn into garments during the manufacturing process. Embedded RFID also offers the possibility of future consumer interaction, the company notes, by linking supply chain transparency with reuse and recycling information to create a connection between brands and consumers.
The technology works with dual frequency tags that incorporate Near Field Communication or HF RFID at 13.56 Mhz. Regarding privacy concerns for UHF RFID, De Backer says, the retailer could allow the RFID chip to be switched to “protective mode.” At this point, the tag would not be detectable by an RFID reader until it was reactivated with a specific password, for example, if the garment it was attached to was returned to the store or taken to a center of recycling.
Such functionality would require industry-wide standardization, he says, so that tags can be queried by multiple authorized parties throughout their lifetime. “We still need to work with the industry to standardize this,” he says, “so everyone is using the same methodology.” According to De Backer, Avery Dennison could take the lead in this effort because a standardized system for tracking a garment’s lifespan is in the company’s best interest.
Avery Dennison does not expect paper tags to be completely phased out for RFID tagging of garments, although over time De Backer expects there will be more integrated RFID solutions. “It’s a process.” Embedded RFID is a relatively new technology, he notes, that could follow a similar trajectory to the adoption curve of RFID in paper hangtags for the retail sector. “We want to do the right thing for ourselves,” he says, “but also for our planet.”
This article first appeared in SSI’s sister publication RFID Journal where Claire Swedberg is editor-in-chief.