This project was a six month pilot study, which was sponsored by the EPSRC funded Sustainable Society Network+, and was conducted by the Advanced Textiles Research Group at Nottingham Trent University (NTU). The main aim of the research was to test the feasibility of incorporating RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips into clothing and other textiles. In any application, the textiles must be able to retain the required characteristic of washability, flexibility, breathability and comfort. The incorporation of RFIDs into yarns helps retain the desired flexibility and comfort as the important shear properties of the resultant fabrics are preserved. Robustness during washing and tumble-drying is also retained as the RFID chips are protected both by the surrounding fibres and by minature resin micro-pods, which are a key feature of the technology (which was developed by Professor Tilak Dias). During the project, RFID microchips (passive NXP U-CODE G2XM) were embedded within the fibres of yarn using NTU proprietry E-yarn technology. Antennas were created by soldering fine copper wires onto an RFID chip, and encapsulating it with UV curable resin to produce the RFID yarn. The RFID yarn was subsequently fitted to selected garments and subjected to washing trials. In addition, the RFID garments were demonstrated to stakeholders who recognised the potential of the new technology for manufacturing, the supply chain, customer satisfaction, and recycling.
There would be significant benefits for the incorporation of RFID devices into textile yarns. These include tracking products through the supply chain, anti-counterfeiting, anti-theft, tagging in the laundry, and for stock control. RFID readers within smart phones could, in the future, enable consumers to interrogate textile items in shops or manage a wardrobe in the home. There are already smart mirrors that respond to an RFID tag to provide information on the item to be purchased and its history including environmental credentials. Embedded RFID tags could also be read by smart washing machines to ensure the correct wash cycle or to warn of mixed colours. These benefits are essential for the adoption of the technology by the textile and clothing industries and for their application in textile fibre and garment recycling. In addition, there are other societal benefits of incorporating RFID chips into yarns.For example, RFID yarns could be retrofitted to clothing as sewing thread and used to monitor the mobility and wellbeing of patients in the home or care home.
A major impact on sustainability would be on the recycling of textile products that need to be sorted into fibre type. RFID tags will enable this to be performed with high efficiency. In addition, the technology could have a major impact on the sorting and recycling of garments to the appropriate market.