RFID System for Production Tracking in Apparel Manufacturing

For real-time shop floor production tracking and production monitoring in apparel manufacturing, RFID technology is one of the commonly used systems. This post is for newcomers those want to know about the RFID system for production tacking system used in a garment factory for real-time production monitoring. RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification.

I don’t need to mention that we all like faster product delivery and quick response to the market. We use many mobile applications in our smart mobiles for managing our personal life. When the apparel industry going for smart manufacturing, machine learning, using IoT, AI tools, apparel manufacturers feel the importance of data for managing their production floor - Why we can’t have real-time production tracking system for the production floor to manage the production in a better way?

RFID system for production tracking

When you do manual production tracking, you count garment production hourly or bi-hourly. You count production from the end-of-line output. You count sewing operators and helpers in a line. You update production quantity on the Hourly Production board. You get production status of the whole factory after one day. That is too late for decision making and fixing production problems. What if you get the production update after each garment is stitched and completed in each workstation?

Let me explain what we mean by production tracking in a garment factory. Production tracking means more than only counting pieces at the output operation and operator head counting. Getting production counting from each workstation (operation-wise as well as operator wise production data), knowing how operators spend the given time when they are on the shop floor.

RFID production tracking system is an old technology, still, it has the potential for garment factories for automizing production tracking and reporting.

Purpose of the RFID system for apparel

The primary objective of an RFID based real-time production tracking system is capturing real-time data and viewing the report on real-time.

Improving process visibility and transparency. Accuracy in production data.

Data capturing and getting data automatically through scanning RFID tags in the workstation. Once you have captured data from the desired activity in the pre-defined parameters, you can play with the data and build reports and KPIs as you need.

I have seen a couple of real-time production tracking systems that are helpful for production tracking and production floor monitoring. I will be referring Blue cherry Shop floor control system for explaining the RFID system, the workflow of this system.

RFID system Workflow in garment manufacturing.

There are many technical terms and data design based on capturing data and storing data in different database tables to retrieve the report in various purpose. I am not going to bore you by explaining technical things here. Instead, I will show how this system works and what kind of information you need to enter into the system before you can scan the RFID tags.

You need to install the operator’s device (called as sewing operator terminal) at the workstation. Connect the device through wiring and networking cable. It can be a wireless device. Installation of the device is decided according to how you want to capture production data and workflow of garment components in a production line. I mean, you can install a separate terminal for each employee, you can install one terminal for a group of employees who are doing the same operation in the same place. And the group is working on the same bundle.

After installing all the hardware components, you need to set up data in the system.

Create a master for employees, line and sections. Add plant details, work shift detail.

Add masters for jobs – you need to create a database for a list of tasks (operations) you do for making your apparel products. You have a code number for each job (sewing and non-sewing activities in the manufacturing related to processing style).

Add operations and style – for a new style you need to create operation adding operation SAM, sequencing of operations in a style, connecting the style with a production line. Marking operations those will be the starting point of the style and components. This is like an OB you make in Excel sheet.

Entering data for order, lay and bundle listing – In practice, apparel manufacturers lay the fabric on the cutting table and cut the fabric as per marker plan. In a lay, you cut multiple layers of fabric plies and multiple markers. You maintain the record of orders – number of lays for completing whole order – size-wise and colour-wise cut quantity in each marker. Finally cutting department makes bundles with few garment pieces (10-20 pieces per bundle).

In the production line, operators get bundles and the work on it and move the completed bundle to the next operator. In the database you need to create bundles – maintaining the same order of data hierarchy – one Order – multiple lays (cut) in one order – multiple bundles (size and colour wise) in one lay – a few garments in each bundle. Combined bundle quantity should be the total order qty.

Assignment of RFID tag against each bundle – after making the list of bundles, you need to assign an RFID tag for each bundle. You can make more than one bundle tag for a bundle. By making multiple tags for the same bundle, operators can work on the same bundle parallelly. For the identification of bundle (style, order number, garment colour size), the label is attached to each bundle.

Read Also: Different types of RFID tags

Attaching tags to bundle – You attach a tag to each bundle before loading it to the employee. The RFID tag can be attached to a bundle in the cutting section or you can attach to the bundle in the feeding area. Here I would like to add bundle /piece can be loaded in various ways in the line.
  • moving bundle throughout the line
  • moving a single piece throughout the line
  • feeding bundle in preparatory section but move a single piece in the assembly section
  • loading bundle to all operation but want to count pieces one by one
  • loading different bundle components at different places at the same time - parallel loading.
All these kind of bundle movements can be adopted by RFID tags assignment and operator terminal profile.

Operator terminal – Set up operator terminal with the operation code and make ready for scanning tags. Operators login to the system by entering their employee code into their terminals. Once they login to a terminal, all kinds of transactions processed into the terminal, are recorded against the employee.

Scanning RFID tag for production counting – Before an operator starts working on a bundle, they scan RFID to the sewing terminal. Once garment bundles reach to the operators, they scan the RFID tag to their terminal. System capture all the transactions performed at the operator’s device. The system captures their transaction and bundle qty as production quantity.

Other kinds of transactions – Other than scanning bundle tags there many other different transaction operators can do as per there need and data required by the factory. Like, the operator can split the bundle, they can log-out from one workstation and work another workstation by login to another terminal. If they work multiple operations, they can change the operation in the terminal. In case an operator gets the whole lay and do the continuous work, scanning of individual bundles can be avoided, by using bulk operation function.

The operator sees their production, earning and performance in the terminal. The operator can send an off-standard request to line supervisor by entering off-standard code in her terminal. A supervisor can approve the off-standard code required on the terminal or from the computer

The basic requirement for installing an RFID system

  • You need hardware and software for installing the RFID system. The software and hardware are normally supplied by the supplier. Other than these components, you need the following
  • IT Team - IT team needed for networking, server maintenance. 
  • Computer, Server, internet (intranet), printer and database
  • Industrial engineer for Data preparation and report viewing. In the system, you need to enter style data with operation SAM. You know, only an industrial engineer can establish garment SAM and operation SAM. In a factory, IE is responsible for operation SAM. Sequencing of the sewing operations in style also needed. Without an IE team, installation of the RFID system, would not be possible.
  • Training of sewing operators – Sewing operators need to be trained on how to use the terminal. Supervisor and line leader need to be trained for basic troubleshooting on the floor.

Benefits of RFID System in production tracking

When you have an RFID based real-time production tracking system, you will have a database. You have the flexibility of making reports in many ways as you want. Factories those have strong IT team and having knowledge of programming and making a report from SQL database, can easily make a useful report for the management and factory. Customized production reports can be made in Crystal report, Excel-based reports using SQL query.
Read also: What you will get from a Real-time production tracking system
With this system, data recorder and line supervisor cannot give you inaccurate production data. As operator get RFID tag for the garment she stitched.

Manual data collection and report making can be eliminated by installing a real-time production tracking system. All production data, lost time data and quality data will be captured from the operator’s device and the system will process those data and report will be made automatically in the pre-fined report templates.

Improved visibility and transparency. You can view production data from a remotely having internet connection. Managers can review data for all sections and lines. They can compare performance between the line. Can track order status, WIP.

Some of the common reports factories views include
  • Hourly production report
  • Line wise employee attendance and absenteeism
  • Previous day's employee wise production, operation wise production
  • Today's line efficiency and previous day's line efficiency
  • WIP report
  • Individual operator's efficiency and skill history
With the real-time production tracking system, you can introduce an incentive scheme for sewing operators. You know incentive scheme is the main driving force for productivity improvement in the shop floor. For designing an incentive scheme, you need production and efficiency for individual employees. With the real-time production tracking system, you will have all the basic data you need for incentive scheme and calculating employees bonus amount. Operator incentive can be designed in various ways – like individual performance, group performance, a combination of group and individual performance.

You can eliminate the bar-code system on the production floor, in case you are already having such a system.

Your operators don’t need to writing production quantity in a piece of paper.

You can integrate other modules in the production tracking systems - like real-time Quality control system, machine maintenance module.

RFID tags are reused until the tag get damaged. Even one tag can be used for more than 10 years. So, no expenses in RFID tag.

A time-saving tool for industrial engineers. In a garment factory, IEs spend a lot of time in daily report preparation and data analysis. Data preparation can be eliminated by introducing the RFID system.

Improving productivity – All application and software commit that it will increase the factory’s productivity. But how? A system can only provide data – you need to take action to get the benefit

Lost-time data – by capturing lost time data, you can find major reasons for efficiency losses in production. After getting lost-time data, if you act and reduce lost-time, your productivity will improve.

I was reading the reading an article Benefits of RFID in Apparel on rfidjournal.com.

Limitations and challenges of an RFID system in apparel

I am implementing the RFID based real-time production tracking system for 8 years. I did the implementation in many garment factories covering 5 different countries. I have worked with the shop floor team, IT team and engineers. I will share some of the challenges that factories faced.

Each factory is unique, and different garment factories view daily production reports in different formats. The inbuilt reports in a real-time production tracking system are limited. In case the factory wants additional report matching with their existing excel reports, suppliers can develop the customised report with/without additional charges.

Involvement of the line supervisors, line leaders and sewing operators is essential for a successful implementation. Sometimes questions come – why operators should spend time on scanning RFID and follow the new system if they are getting any benefits from this system (in the salaried environment).

I have seen real-time production tracking systems is used as standalone software and not integrated with the ERP and payroll systems. Engineers become the lead for the system installation and maintaining the system. When an IE leaves the factory, factory face issues in maintaining the system.

During the implementations, factories develop many custom reports. But after a few months, they used to view and track only a few reports.

Most of the factories I had worked with do not have a database team (IT team having knowledge of SQL DB and report preparation from SQL database) for developing reports internally. In such a situation, factories can’t utilize the data they captured.

Conclusion

I understand it is not possible to understand and visualize the whole process of the RFID system and its use in a garment unit by reading this short article. I have explained only major activities with brief notes and without any example. My objective of sharing this piece of article is to make you aware of how the RFID system works in an apparel manufacturing unit.

The technical things and actual working method can be learned when you install such a system in your factory. There are a few companies who provide real-time production tracking solution, most of them use RFID technology for data capturing. Working method and data preparation may vary from one product to another.

For tracking the real-time shop floor production data, RFID systems are good options for the garment factories. Benefits of this system are enormous if you can fully utilize the product.

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