Barcode and radio frequency identifi cation (RFID) technology have been widely applied in automatic identifi cation and tracking throughout the textiles and fashion supply chain. This chapter will fi rst compare the differences between these technologies and discuss how RFID technology can perform better than barcode technology in various aspects. The fundamentals of RFID technology, the architecture of an RFID system and an overview of the application of RFID technology in the textiles and fashion supply chain will be described.
The apparel industry is one of the most important sectors of the economy, creating jobs and products that meet fundamental human needs. The supply chain of the apparel industry is highly complex due to a number of distinct industrial features, which include short product life- cycles, a wide product range and volatile customer demand. It is becoming an increasing trend to employ radio frequency identifi cation (RFID) technology to identify and track individual products in the apparel supply chain.
A supply chain is a set of policies, processes, management actions, and technologies that collectively forecast, acquire and deliver products and services to meet the identifi ed needs of a company and/or customer (Shepard, 2005). Supply chain management (SCM) is the management of a network of interconnected business processes involved in a supply chain for the purpose of creating value for customers and stakeholders. It spans all movement and storage of raw materials, work- in-process inventory and fi nished goods. Effective SCM is crucial to lower operating costs and improve the competitiveness of businesses. Good SCM depends on the availability of accurate and timely data about various activities in the supply chain. These include progress in meeting production schedules, current inventory levels and the location of material. Data acquisition is thus crucial. For example, early detection of a shipment delay by rail may mean that it can still make its deadline by trucking it, while later detection of this problem may mean that some critical parts may have to be delivered by air, a much more expensive option.
In recent years, automatic identifi cation systems have become popular in many manufacturing and service industries as well as the logistics industry, which aim to improve data acquisition processes and to capture data in a more timely and accurate manner. This in turn gives management and decision- makers more time to recognize potential problems and make effi cient decisions. The application of automatic identifi cation systems involves a broad range of supply chain operations, such as:
• item identifi cation and tracking;
• warehousing; and
• payment transactions.
Technologies such as barcode, RFID, signature capture and magnetic stripe, the former two being most commonly used in logistics and SCM, are indeed already in use.
1.2 From barcode to RFID technology
A barcode is an optical machine- readable representation of data relating to the object to which it is attached. The invention of the barcode is usually credited to two graduate students at Drexel Institute of Technology, Norman Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver, who pioneered the concept and fi led the fi rst patent on barcode technology on 20 October 1949. The fi rst application of industrial barcode technology was in the labeling of railroad cars in the 1960s, but it was not commercially successful until the now ubiquitous Universal Product Code (UPC) barcode. This was developed and used to automate the grocery checkout process, the fi rst occasion of which has been credited on a packet of chewing gum in Troy, Ohio, in 1974. The successful application of barcode technology revolutionized inventory tracking and management in the retail industry.
Nowadays, barcodes are used almost universally. Airlines rely on barcodes to track passenger luggage to reduce the chance of loss. Warehouses rely on them to track the movements of materials and parts. The express industry relies on them to track mails and parcels. Barcodes are attached to each book to make the borrowing, returning and stocktaking of books easier and faster. Researchers have also looked into insects’ mating habits, such as by placing tiny barcodes on individual bees. NASA depends on barcodes to monitor thousands of heat tiles that need to be replaced after every space shuttle trip. Barcodes even appear on humans! Stamping barcodes onto fashion models helps designers to coordinate their fashion shows.
Many different types of barcode technologies have been developed since the emergence of the UPC barcode, which can be classifi ed mainly into two categories:
1. linear barcode;
2. two- dimensional (2D) barcode.
Each category comprises multiple barcode types. The linear barcode is made up of parallel lines and spaces of various widths that create specifi c patterns, which typically encodes alpha- numerical strings up to maximum of about 20 characters. The 2D barcode is made up of rectangles, dots, hexagons and other geometric patterns in two dimensions, which can represent more data per unit area than the linear barcode.
Although it is well developed and its applications are wide- ranging, barcode technology does have some limitations. For example, we are not able to change the data on a barcode once it is printed. In addition, barcode scanning devices are designed to operate over short distances. It is these limitations which RFID technology is capable of overcoming.
RFID is a generic term used to describe technologies that involve the use of a wireless non- contact system. This utilizes radio waves to transfer data from an RFID tag attached to an object, for the purposes of automatic identifi cation and tracking. Unlike barcode technology, RFID tags can be read from up to tens of meters away and beyond the lines of sight of the reader. Although the history of radio frequency engineering can be traced back to 1864, when James Clerk Maxwell predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves through his famous equations, RFID was not invented until 60 years later. The fi rst RFID application was developed in conjunction with radar technology for the Identifi cation Friend or Foe (IFF) system used during World War II. The IFF system was developed in a secret British project led by Scottish inventor and physicist Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt. In this system, active and battery- powered RFID tags were placed on each British plane. When planes received radio frequency signals from radar stations on the ground, they broadcast signals back in the opposite direction which identifi ed the plane as friendly. A passive radio transponder with memory, invented by Mario W. Cardullo and patented on 23 January 1973, is usually viewed as the fi rst patent for an RFID tag. However, the fi rst patent to be associated with the abbreviation RFID would not appear for a further ten years, this being granted to Charles Walton.