RFID’s role in manufacturing logistics

21 February 2017

Howard Forryan explains how advances in RFID technology can be utilised to improve manufacturing logistics systems.

One of the key elements of Industry 4.0 is the role of ‘manufacturing logistics’ which can be defined in terms of challenging the existing supply chain management model by using intelligent systems to implement functions such as supplying the line with discrete and accurate quantities of materials; ensuring goods flow on a just-in-time schedule, and faithfully tracking assets and inventory in the warehouse and in transit. 

Manufacturing logistics allows data captured from the manufacturing area to be operationalised so that production lines can be adjusted, maintained or re-tooled, based on live information. Automated endpoints of lines can inform inventory and shipping systems, which can, for example, automatically move finished goods to where it needs to be, at the right time. 

Manufacturing logistics converts data acquired from the production line into actionable intelligence for continuous process improvement, thereby building resilience, developing agile supply and production, and incorporating predictions of market-driven events into production and supply planning.

RFID technology
The practical implementation of manufacturing logistics has been facilitated by developments in radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. In the modern factory, RFID sensor networks can provide and communicate all the necessary data, with strategically placed RFID tags and sensors creating a real-time multi-directional autonomous pipeline of raw manufacturing data.

New passive UHF RFID technology solutions are supporting this approach for improvements in manufacturing logistics, including a flexible coaxial travelling waveguide antenna from Harting – the Ha-VIS LOCFIELD – which can sense multiple transponders via an RF field radially extending over its entire length of up to 10m; a rugged and compact IP67 Ha-VIS RFID reader, whose rugged construction and IP67 degree of protection allow it to be sited in harsh environment conditions; and a range of passive transponders that can be applied on all types of materials, in particular metal surfaces. 

RFID applications
RFID is suited to locating and identifying components and their status. In a maintenance context, this means that an operator can instantly identify a particular component or sub-assembly and its service history prior to transferring the maintenance documentation into the company database.  A German injection moulding machine manufacturer, for example, has improved its regular service and maintenance work in accordance with the required safety standards. With a Harting RFID system the company has saved time which would have previously been spent in digitising paper-based checklists for the maintenance backend system. In parallel, it has also eliminated typical human mistakes. The relevant information on each component and the checklist itself is already digitised and stored on RFID mobile readers in real time.

With the same technique other kinds of service and maintenance jobs can also be managed to improve production or quality standards. In this application, the RFID systems cut the administrative overhead and support the worker doing his core business. RFID mobile readers identify maintenance items via RFID transponders, and HARTING’s Ha-VIS application software suite manages the relevant data and provides integration with other plant management systems. 

Simplifying RFID
Machines are becoming more modular, more complex and are often operated by different workers. As a result, incorrect parameter settings or malfunctions can be introduced by human error.

The HARTING RFID reader supports full configuration cloning so that every worker is able to easily and reliably replace and re-install an RFID reader. The configuration is stored on a USB stick, which incorporates auto-detection so that when the USB stick is installed, the reader automatically loads the entire configuration on reboot.

Tool identification 
Stamping and moulding machines are used with different tools and generally an individual tool can only be used with a specific program or parameter set. RFID systems from Harting allow for the automatic identification of which tool is currently installed, and can load the right program.

For this application an RFID transponder is optimised to function when mounted on metal surfaces or in cavities. It is also resistant to chemicals and high temperature up to 210°C. 

Howard Forryan is a product marketing specialist at Harting.

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