PARIS Philips Semiconductors' RFID chip will be embedded into the label of every new garment bearing the name of Benetton's core clothing brand, Sisley.
Philips said Tuesday (March 11)) it sewed up the design win with European clothier Benetton through close work with LAB ID, an Italian system integrator. Philips estimated that it will ship 15 million RFID chips, based on its I.CODE ICs, to Benetton in 2003.
While Philips' RFID chips are already in wide use for tracking parts throughout manufacturing process at Dell Computers, Toyota and Ford, the deal with Benetton makes it "the single biggest roll-out of RFID technology in the fashion industry to date," Scott McGregor, chief executive officer at Philips Semiconductors, said in a statement.
Philips' I.CODE ICs will be incorporated into smart labels attached to garments during manufacturing. By storing information about the style, size, color and intended destination of items, the I.CODE chip allows Benetton to track individual items of clothing "from manufacturing, warehouses to retail stores," said Christophe Duverne, vice president of marketing and sales at Philips Semiconductors' Identification group.
All garment boxes shipped from Benetton will also be labeled with I.CODE-based smart labels. The box labels are used to track box shipments throughout Benetton's logistics process, enabling improved identification and item-to-box correlation. Benetton is using the RFID technology across the company's 5,000 stores worldwide.
The RFID technology can also be used to locate individual garments in stores using smart shelves and dressing rooms. When used at the point of sale, the RFID technology can also automatically register sales and returns. It can also feed information back into the company's ordering system.
Exactly when RFID chips will replace widely used bar code technology remains a hotly debated question in the industry.
The I.CODE chip today costs "below 20 cents in high volume," said Duverne.
Some argue it is still too expensive to use the technology for retail merchandise. Despite some "far-fetched visions on RFID chip applications," Duverne said "this project [with Benetton] will prove the reality of high volume application of RFID chips."
He added, "This demonstrates that one can justify the use of RF technology, and can make a strong business case for it."
In comparison to traditional bar code technology, smart labels would provide users a highly automated scanning process that does not require line of sight and that can scan multiple items at once. This means, for example, that boxes containing a variety of Benetton garments can be scanned at once and information uploaded directly into the company's main computer system. Previously, all merchandise would have been unpacked and checked by hand.
Since I.CODE ICs are embedded into garment labels, they would remain attached for the life of an each piece of clothing. As the use of RFID chips moves closer to consumers, some worry about privacy issues raised by the tracking capabilities of RFID technology. Duverne said standards groups are looking for a uniform way to "deactivate" the RFID function after clothes with smart labels are purchased by consumers.
The I.CODE chip used in Benetton's labels includes 1,024 bits of EEPROM and operates at 13.56-MHz carrier frequency. It can be operated without line of sight up to 1.5 meters. The label requires no internal power supply. Its contactless interface generates power and the system clock via the resonant circuitry by inductive coupling to the reader.
The interface also demodulates data transmitted from the reader to the I.CODE label, and modulates the electromagnetic field for data transmission from the I.CODER label to the reader.
According to Philips' Duverne, the company has shipped half a billion RFID chips so far.