Zigbee OPC Ethernet gateway improves logistics and tracking

11 October 2010

Having successfully supplied a ZigBee-based system to enable a UK motor vehicle manufacturer to ensure that all components for car production arrive JIT on the assembly line, IDC has now also supplied a similar system to the French division of the same manufacturer.

The latest system required IDC hardware to interface to an existing SCADA monitoring system. To achieve this the company developed an OPC Server for its Ethernet Gateway, which enabled easy integration of the wireless pull switch and push button units for supply chain interaction.

The turnkey UK system - based on IDC’s ZigBee-based wireless pushbutton and pull cord system - provides end-to-end visibility for the automotive manufacturer, helping it to meet the challenge of scheduling, monitoring and controlling its logistics operation and flow of parts. The system operates in conjunction with simple screen instructions, which instruct supply chain personnel to commence certain operations. The wireless hardware provided by IDC is used by the operators to indicate that they are following these instructions.

The system that IDC supplied to France differs in that the hardware had to work with the existing site-wide SCADA system, which was already being used to provide some supply chain visibility. To solve this problem an OPC server enables integration with the plant-wide SCADA. The OPC server also enables new ZigBee wireless devices, such as pull cords and pushbuttons, to be seamlessly added to the system.

The Pull Cord’s were provided ready-integrated with a simple wireless switch interface, the ZB107. This can accommodate up to 16V-free digital inputs, but in this configuration it was simply a self-contained solution comprising a Pull Switch bolted to the wireless module.

Other areas of the French plant use the hand held pushbutton (ZB102) which provides a customisable membrane keypad with more key options in a single self contained rugged enclosure. A key benefit of this for the automotive manufacturer is that it is small enough to be carried by forklift operators. Moreover, the network created by the wireless infrastructure means that the forklift operators can continue to interact with the supply chain system wherever they are on site.

“By using mobile ZigBee technology, manufacturers, warehousing and logistics companies and distribution specialists can overcome the problems of inflexibility and integration problems experienced with fixed tracking systems,” said Kevin Buckley, MD of IDC. “Each ZigBee module its own in-built location engine, which we are using to provide an estimate of position; so we can track cars, operators, vehicles, parts, in fact almost anything, simply by attaching a mobile ZigBee node. What this enables us to do is to bring a dynamic to all systems, operations and parts, providing up-to-date, interactive, data that can be directly interfaced to a manufacturer’s mainframe. This is not just another ‘Real Time Location System’ as there is a full suite of products which all run on the same infrastructure, providing a cost effective alternative to traditional techniques for manufacturing logistics and supply chain data capture.”

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