Flexible design combined with high throughput
Increasing quality requirements and the desire for resource efficiency necessitate autonomous fault detection through comprehensive product and production data. In the area of quality control, goods in the production process and value chain must be reliably and uniquely identified so that they can support efficient automated control. An increasing number of these digital automation solutions are finding their way into the fashion and clothing industries, with the work of fashion leader Gerry Weber Group being a good example.
The company has already established an important basis for this by investing in a new logistics centre and modifying its logistics processes. The new logistics centre in Ravenna Park in Halle, Westphalia, has been in the ramp-up phase since December 2015, and is where the company sees potential to control all of its own logistics processes in future. With the launch of the new logistics centre, the previously decentralised logistics structures will be optimised and rationalised at a single facility. Currently being stored in separate warehouses and at the company’s logistics partners during the transition period, hanging garments and flat- packed goods will be brought together in the new logistics centre in a step-by-step process.
The accelerated value chain for the world of fast fashion and the dynamic changes resulting from increased digitisation require high-quality data and seamless data transparency throughout the entire value chain. Gerry Weber first launched a project for optimising its entire international value chain back in 2009. As part of this project, RFID was employed for optimising logistics work- flows and retail processes, as well as being used as a new form of goods security. During this development process, the company came up with another innovative idea: the standard care label was enhanced to create a textile RFID label that combined the security function, the manufacturer’s care notes, and an electronic product code recognisable within the logistics centre.
Efficient solutions for identification tasks depend on more than just one type of technology. Sick track and trace systems provide a flexible and intelligent all-in-one solution for goods receipt and goods issue in logistics. The systems consist of tried-and-tested solutions including read/write devices for RFID identification, a central controller with an integrated allocation algorithm, incremental encoders for determining the position and speed of the object and for measuring the distance between objects, photoelectric sensors for triggering the object, and optional laser scanners or cameras.
Gerry Weber uses RFID systems from Sick for fully automated picking and identifying items of clothing. The RF-GOH RFID gate system for hanging garments and the RFMS Pro RFID tunnel system were designed in conjunction with the conveyor system manufacturer and integrated into the new Gerry Weber logistics centre. Further manual picking stations are also equipped with Sick RFID technology.
High value clothing is stored on a hangers on a conveyor system at the logistics centre to prevent damage and ensure that customers receive a ready-to-wear products whether they buy it in store or have it delivered straight to their door. To achieve fully-automated returns processing and order picking for hanging products that keeps order throughput times as short as possible and picking accuracy as high as possible, the logistics center is equipped with two solutions that work well together: one UHF transponder on the care label in the item of clothing and one HF transponder in the roller adapter.
“Every item is fitted with an RFID tag at the goods entry point.” explains Jürgen Dietsch, director of logistics systems at Gerry Weber. “The care label and RFID tag are not always stitched into the same place in every item of clothing. In light of this, a length of around 1.80m has to be scanned in order to evaluate the first source. This takes place using the Sick gate. The other source is a small adapter which runs along the top in the roller adapter with a unique identification number. The challenge here is to allocate the transponder in the clothing to the HF transponder in the adapter so that the marriage can take place. We can now read this data and merge it together – consolidating HF and UHF information about the item of clothing with the ID number. The process can then be automated and generally improved across the board. Otherwise, we would have to install one of these tunnel gates at every point where a decision has to be made.”
The RF-GOH system was developed specifically for RFID identification on hanging conveyor systems. The intelligent allocation algorithm allows several RFID tags to be read at the same time and al-so calculates the position of each RFID tag. This creates a unique link between the RFID tag and the hanging product – even for objects that are close together on the conveying line. Furthermore, the system detects and filters the static transponders in the surrounding area.
Based on Sick’s 4Dpro concept, bar code scanners and read devices can also be integrated into the system. For example, this allows the information in the UHF transponder in the item of clothing to be linked to the information in the HF transponder on the hanger. The same is true of merging the UHF data with the bar code data. The modular MSC800 system controller forms the heart of the system. The hardware built into the controller and its integrated allocation algorithm generates a particularly high level of reliability. The MSC800 makes any relevant data from all of the integrated sensors available to the control system.
Items such as sweaters, shirts, or accessories are folded for delivery. Any boxes full of folded items are tracked using the RFMS Pro track and trace system. Because the transponders can be read reliably in the tunnel gate, any items packed tightly inside a shipping carton can be recorded.
With the RFMS Pro track and trace system, Sick combines tried-and-tested components and sensors used in a wide array of other solutions to form an innovative end-to-end solution: The 4Dpro integrates the RFMS Pro easily into any application – even in combination with other technologies for automatic identification (a laser scanner or camera, for example). In addition, a solution to measure the volume can be integrated to output the dimensions of the particular object, so all required data is output via one unit and one interface.
The outstanding image quality of the built-in image-based ICR89x code reader also makes it suitable for use in OCR and video coding applications. “Besides RFID read/write devices, the tunnel is also equipped with an OCR camera for reading plain text on labels, such as hand- written information regarding quantity or other item attributes in the event of returns,” says Dietsch, describing the requirements.
Pick-and-pack systems are used to send folded items to the stores or warehouses. Gerry Weber uses Sick RFU62x UHF RFID read/write devices from SICK for this purpose. Their well-defined, restricted read/write range is particularly well-suited for automatic identification over small object distances. In this case, the scanned product is placed directly in the outgoing box. A pick-to-light indication makes sure the item is allocated to the right box. Finally, one last scan verifies that the box contains what it is supposed to.
The logistics centre is currently in the ramp-up phase, with additional functions being incorporated to make the individual logistics processes even better. The centre is expected to start working at full capacity in 2016 and will turn over up to 30 million items per year.
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