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


Hong Kong Customs Moves Forward With E-Lock Plans

The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) reports that RFID-based container locks can effectively improve the security, convenience and visibility of the customs process for cargo entering the airport. In November 2011, C&ED began testing three types of electronic locks (e-locks) in order to speed up the process of performing customs checks on containers filled with cargo. The solution, known as the Intermodal Transhipment Facilitation Scheme (ITFS), was implemented as a way to streamline the clearance of cargo passing through customs at Hong Kong International Airport for cargo destined for areas both domestic and outside of Hong Kong. The installation and consulting services were provided by the Hong Kong R&D Center for Logistics and Supply Chain Management Enabling Technologies (LSCM), according to Frank Tong, LSCM’s director of research and technology development.

An electronic lock with an active RFID tag is being used to secure freight passing through
customs and Hong Kong International Airport, ensuring that the cargo remains tamper-free,
while also expediting the clearance process.

The Hong Kong C&ED estimates that the system reduces the amount of time required for clearing each container through customs, from two to three hours down to five minutes, since customs officials can now be assured that the containers have not been opened between their inspection at the border control point and their arrival at the airport. What’s more, the agency can now collect a digital record of where each container has been, along with when it was inspected.

Cargo is loaded into freight containers or directly onto trucks—such as those operated by United Parcel Service (UPS)—in Mainland China, and is then transported to a customs control point located at the border with Hong Kong, where C&ED officials inspect the cargo and clear it for entry into Hong Kong. Following that clearance, the shipment continues on to Hong Kong International Airport’s cargo terminal, where the goods are unloaded from the container or vehicle, and are placed into an air cargo container. Once this has occurred, the cargo is moved through another customs control point at the airport, where C&ED again inspects and approves or rejects its passage.

To speed up this process, the R&D Center implemented the use of an e-lock for the customs agency, consisting of a physical lock activated by a built-in active RFID tag, designed to receive a transmission from an RFID reader that allows the lock to be opened or closed. Three types of e-locks are currently being used, provided by three different vendors: Long Sun Logistics Development Ltd, CIMC Intelligent Technology Co. and CelluWare Research Laboratory. Each of the three products employs a different frequency—433 MHz, 315 MHz and 2.4 GHz—but all comply with the ISO 17712 standard for mechanical seals designed for freight containers.

LSCM has installed fixed RFID readers (provided by the three e-lock vendors) at two border control points—Lok Ma Chau and Shenzhen Bay—as well as at Hong Kong International Airport. When a shipment first arrives at either border control point, C&ED’s staff attaches an e-lock, reads the ID number encoded on its built-in RFID tag via a handheld reader, and links that ID with the vehicle registration number of the truck transporting the container. The transporting company must pre-register each vehicle with the Hong Kong C&ED prior to its arrival; the truck’s ID number is listed in the agency’s database, and the customs official can confirm that the vehicle is, in fact, the one expected.

That data, along with the specific cargo being transported, is then stored on the Hong Kong C&ED’s integrated tracking software platform, developed by LSCM, which collects and processes the data and then displays it for customs officials when necessary. The system stores the e-lock ID number linked to the vehicle ID, and transmits instructions to the e-lock, along with a password, thereby causing it to lock. The device also requires a physical key, which remains in the driver’s possession. In this way, two actions must be completed before the container or vehicle can be unlocked: The e-lock must be electronically unlocked via a password from a customs official, and the driver must use a key to physically open the padlock.

The shipment is then transported approximately 42 kilometers (26 miles) to the airport. The e-lock comes with a built-in GPS device that tracks the vehicle’s location as it moves. In that way, the e-lock stores a record of where the vehicle has been. When the lock is later read at the airport, the back-end software compares the actual GPS data against the container’s expected route. The system can issue alerts in circumstances in which an e-lock is found to have lost a GPS signal, or, based on GPS data, the truck appears to have deviated from the intended route.

At Hong Kong International Airport, a C&ED official either selects the container for inspection, or simply instructs the system to issue an unlocking command with the matching password; the container is then brought to a site where the cargo is removed and then loaded onto an aircraft, says Steve Wai-chiu Chan, a C&ED special duties officer. If the container is selected for inspection, the e-lock remains locked. In this scenario, a truck driver would be instructed to await a C&ED officer, and would be unable to unlock the container without providing the proper password. The C&ED officer, upon arrival, would then use a handheld device to read the e-lock, instructing it to unlock by providing the necessary password.

LSCM installed a total of 38 readers at the two land border control points, five logistic hubs at the airport and a marine control point known as the Kwai Chung Customhouse, for items arriving by sea (at the Marine Cargo Terminal located at the airport). Altogether, by February of this year, 109 containers had been equipped with the e-lock device. An average of 100,000 consignments pass through the border daily, and the ITFS e-lock system is utilized for about 17 percent of that cargo.

The solution has enabled a faster customs clearance process, as well as providing a digital record of what was unlocked, and thus inspected, and when this occurred. The system also improves security, since only officers who know the proper password can access the container. Ultimately, Chan says, “it enhances the Hong Kong logistic industry’s competency and reinforces Hong Kong’s position as a world-class logistics hub.” Source: RFID Journal and a word of thanks to Andy Brown (Tenacent) for bringing the article to my attention.