In a busy manufacturing operation, there’s a lot to track and manage, whether it’s finished goods that need to be stored for eventual shipment, or equipment that needs to be serviced, maintained, and brought to the right locations for production processes. But tracking, managing and locating all those assets can be complicated and difficult, particularly if you have goods and equipment that are spread across a large facility, need to be stored outdoors or in separate buildings, or stored where there’s a high density of items.
In these situations, typical tracking systems such as barcoding aren’t as effective because you need line-of-sight access to barcode labels to make it work. Having that line-of-sight access can be difficult or impossible out in a yard, across multiple buildings, or in a storage location where there could be many racks or rows of goods, equipment or other items. For example, at Troy Design & Manufacturing (TDM), a Ford Motor Company subsidiary, the company converts based-model Ford Vehicles into modified vehicles such as police interceptors. But at 150 vehicle conversions per day, TDM had a massive parking lot where hundreds of vehicles needed to be received, stored and later returned after the conversion process is complete.
Uniquely identifying, tracking and locating those vehicles whenever needed became a big headache. The company had a manual, paper-based tracking system that wasn’t efficient enough to track 150 vehicles, their status, and work-in-process every day. But barcoding wasn’t a solution because it wasn’t feasible for workers to roam the entire parking lot, trying to find the right barcode to scan and confirm the right vehicle.
Similarly, in many complex production environments such as aerospace manufacturing, there is expensive and highly specialized equipment that has to be moved between buildings to fabricate and assemble finished products such as aircraft. But it can often be a challenge to know where those assets are at any given time and quickly get them to the right location to prepare for production and avoid delays or downtime.
This is where radio frequency identification, or RFID, is the ideal way to tackle these kinds of challenges.
Advantages of RFID for Locating and Tracking
Unlike barcoding, which relies on line-of-sight access to a barcode, RFID uses wireless radio waves to identify, locate and track goods or equipment remotely. Each item is tagged with a small RFID label with tiny micro transmitters that receive and transmit radio waves, communicating with RFID readers that are either handheld devices or fixed readers placed in strategic locations.
With passive RFID, the most common form of RFID tag, the readers actually send radio waves to the transmitters that wake them up, provide power, and allow them to communicate with the reader. However, for high-value products or equipment, you can use active RFID, where each RFID tag has its own battery, and the tag can wake itself up at regular intervals and send signals to nearby readers to update their location and status.
RFID read ranges depend on the type of RFID tags and frequency as well as any antenna arrays that you’re using. But passive UHF tags are typically read from within 10 to 20 feet, although their range can be extended to 60 feet or more by using antenna arrays. Active tags can be read from ranges of 300 feet or more.
Using RFID, you can typically locate items to within a few feet of accuracy, and each tag contains a unique identifier, so each item can be matched with a database containing information about it, which can be updated in real time.
Real World Results for Leading Manufacturers
In the case of TDM and its vehicle conversions, the company used Zebra’s RFID solutions to start tagging and tracking vehicles so workers could quickly and easily know the location of any vehicle, even among the hundreds of them in their facility’s parking lot. Combining Zebra RFID tracking with its business systems, TDM was able to locate and manage each vehicle by VIN number, tracking number, work instructions, BOMs, and even time and date stamps so it could track all work in process.
Using this data, TDM was able to achieve complete visibility into all of vehicles and production processes, and it was able to send Ford real-time reports of vehicle receipt, production progress, and shipping updates.
Similarly, Zebra’s industry leading RFID solutions have helped many leading players in aerospace and other industrial manufacturing operations locate, track, and maintain their mission-critical production equipment.
By using Zebra fixed RFID readers placed at the entrance and exit points of production buildings, RFID tags are read automatically and remotely as they pass by the reader and equipment is moved from location to location. This information is then passed to a database, ERP, or other system, so workers and managers can instantly know the last location of an item and move it between buildings when needed.
The MRO teams at these companies are also able to use the same RFID data to locate items and track and update their status when it’s time to perform routine maintenance, servicing, repairs, or quality checks. This way, they can stay ahead of the game with preventive maintenance and keep equipment in ideal working order, all while maintaining accurate records for compliance purposes.
Learning More About RFID
To learn more about RFID, including ways you can use it to automate inventory management in your warehouse and error-proof production processes as well as locate and track finished goods and assets, connect with our team at TPI for a free consultation. TPI is now a division of Abetech. Abetech is a premier systems integrator of industrial edge solutions for the manufacturing and warehousing industries.
We’ll be happy to share more information about how RFID works, how you can potentially use it in your operations, and whether it’s the right fit for your business. Just call us now at 888-488-4244 or email us through our website to get stared.