E-Thread Provides Discrete Anti-Counterfeiting or Tracking Solutions

The E-Thread tag, shown here embedded in a spool of thread (RFID Journal)

The E-Thread tag, shown here embedded in a spool of thread (RFID Journal)

Several industrial linen companies in the United Kingdom and France are testing a new RFID tag that is literally woven into a textile or fabric product. The E-Thread, developed by French startup Primo1D, consists of an EPC ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID chip connected to two 10-centimeter-long (4-inch-long) antennas—extending from opposite sides of the chip—integrated into a thread (which could be made from polyester, cotton, wool or plastic) that is then woven into garments, linens, luxury items or industrial products. Because the thread is nearly impossible to visually identify as an RFID tag, the company claims, it cannot be located and removed or disabled by counterfeiters or thieves, and its durability enables the tag to last as long as the textile into which it is woven.

The E-Thread technology—for which there are 20 patents pending—is available in three versions: one with a wired sensor to track such things as temperature or motion, one with a light-emitting diode (LED) built into it, and a third with an EPC UHF passive RFID chip and antenna to store and transmit data when interrogated. The LED version is intended for cosmetic purposes; when sewn into a garment, a car-seat cover or some other object, it could illuminate when wired to a power source. The sensor-based thread could be used in an athlete’s uniform to track his or her condition, but would also require a power source, such as a battery, to operate. To record that data, however, the sensor would need to be connected to some sort of data logger or computing device.

The RFID-enabled version is initially being tested by several companies that manage and launder linens and other textile products used by hospitals and hotels. Pilots of the RFID E-Thread are slated to continue for the next six months, allowing Primo1D the opportunity to make any necessary improvements before full-scale manufacturing and commercially releasing the product during the fourth quarter of 2015. The linen manufacturers undertaking the pilots are reading the tags built into threads in a variety of products, such as bedding or table cloths, and are putting those items through industrial laundry processes, as well as periodically reading the E-Threads, to test their durability.

The E-Thread provides an alternative to other RFID labels that must be sewn onto or adhered to a piece of fabric or garment. The shortcoming of RFID labels, he notes, is that counterfeiters or thieves can see them and thus remove them from products. In addition, store personnel often remove them once a product is sold. When it comes to high-value luxury apparel, the concern of retailers and brands is that an RFID label will be removed from a product, attached to a counterfeit version of that product, and then returned to the supply chain for sale in stores. With the E-Thread solution, a counterfeiter would not know the location of the RFID chip and antenna, and would thus be unable to place them on a counterfeit product. Potential thieves would not be able to find the E-Thread either, he adds—since it cannot be seen—and, therefore, would be unable to disable the tags in a store or other location with the intention of passing them through a reader undetected.

For those in the industrial laundry market, such as linens manufacturers and those using the linens, the thread is more secure than a label (which could be torn or knocked loose during the laundering process). The thread can be included in the fabric at the point of manufacture, thereby saving the step of sewing labels onto items.

The E-Thread RFID tag works with any standard UHF RFID reader, and can typically be interrogated at a range of up to 7 meters. In the case of laundry management, a company could receive bags of soiled linens from a customer renting its products, and could then transport the bags through a reader portal. Rather than opening every bag and then sorting through and visually accounting for each item contained within, users could simply create an electronic record of all goods received. For linen sorting, users would want to put each garment through a tunnel reader in order to identify it, one tag at a time, perhaps by placing items on a conveyor that passes through that tunnel. In that way, they could separate items based on type, or according to the particular customer using them.

The E-Thread will cost more than a standard UHF label, but will offer the feature of being discrete, thereby providing anti-counterfeiting capability and other functionality that standard labels cannot offer. Because the E-Thread is designed to be rugged enough for industrial washing, it is also expected to outlast the lifespan of the product into which it is sewn. With that in mind, the E-Thread tag could be read at the time of a product’s disposal, enabling a company to access data regarding how that item could be recycled.

The E-Thread will be sold in the form of a spool of thread, with the RFID tag built directly into the thread material. The thread’s length and the quantity of RFID tags embedded in a single piece of thread would vary, depending on a user’s requirements. Source: Rfid Journal


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