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Garments with 'invisible' chips could revolutionise the clothing industry

06 July 2015

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University have developed a way to embed clothes with tiny data chips which cannot be seen in situ by the naked eye.

A team at Nottingham Trent University has developed a method of embedding RFID chips into yarns which are then woven and knitted to make fabrics for clothing

A team led by Professor Tilak Dias, of the Advanced Textiles Research Group in the School of Art & Design, has developed a method of embedding radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips into yarns which are then woven and knitted to make fabrics for clothing.

The RFID chips – which are commonly used in bank cards for contactless payments – can contain all the information that is usually communicated via barcode.

The technology developed by Professor Dias, which is patent protected and was financially supported by Sustainable Society Network+, has the potential to offer more for textile products by enhancing security at retail outlets, generating efficiencies in manufacturing and stocktaking, and allowing for clothes donated to charity to be tracked around the world.

"This is an exciting technological development which will bring tremendous benefits to the retail industry and more," says Professor Dias.

"If an RFID chip is embedded into a shirt, for instance, it will provide a much greater level of anti-theft and anti-counterfeiting protection. As people will not be able to easily identify where a chip is located in a garment, shoplifters won't be able to cut it off to steal it.

"The process of stocktaking could be reduced to a much shorter process, as many garments could be scanned at once, immediately, without the need to scan each individual barcode. Ultimately, this could drive costs down for manufacturers, retailers and in turn, consumers.

"Similarly, in relation to recycled clothes, charities would be able to sort garments much quicker – perhaps even in an automated way - to identify the types of clothing that are suitable for different countries according to their requirements."

The Nottingham Trent University team

Sealed inside resin micro pods within yarns, the fabrics incorporating RFIDs can be run through washing machines and tumble driers without incurring any damage.

Short thin copper strands attached to either side of the chips are embedded in yarn fibres and act as an antenna.

Measuring one millimetre by 0.5 millimetre in size, when bought in bulk the chips can cost only a few pence each.

Professor Dias believes that in the distant future this technology could be used in conjunction with smart washing machines to warn consumers of mixed colours or inappropriate temperatures.

"This is a cost-effective development which opens up countless possibilities for industry," adds co-researcher, Anura Rathnayake. "In the long run this technology could be of tremendous benefit to charitable organisations which spend a great deal of time directing donated clothing to people around the world.

"The whereabouts of older people in care homes could also be better monitored if RFID chips are retrofitted to their clothing, for example. By making that process more efficient, they would be able to make better use of their limited resources and provide more help to people who are in need.

"We're keen now keen to open this technology up to industry so we can learn how different people envisage it being used, potentially in ways we may never have imagined."

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