Set your sights on IO-Link for machine vision products

While IO-Link is well addressed in an automated production environment, some have overlooked the benefits IO-Link can deliver for machine vision products.

PLC Gateway-Modus

Any IO-Link device can be connected and controlled by the PLC via fieldbus interface. Saving installation costs and controlling and running IO-Link components are the key values. All the well-known IO-Link benefits apply.

Rainer1

Camera-Modus – without PLC

However, with IO-Link that operates in this mode, the IO-Link-interfaces Rainer2are directly controlled. IO-Link I/O-Modules are automatically detected, configured and controlled.

In a stand-alone situation where an optical inspectionRainer3 of a component is performed without PLC, the operator delivers the component, hits a trigger button, the SmartCamera checks for completeness of production quality, sends a report to a separate customer server, and controls directly via IO-Link interface the connected vision product.

For more information about machine vision and optical identification see www.balluff.com

 

Process Audits – the most powerful tool you probably aren’t using

For a myriad of reasons, when industrial machinery is being designed and constructed, the right sensing/connectivity product with the right application-specific attributes doesn’t always get designed into the zone of the machinery for the function it’s intended to perform.  This can result in consumption, excessive and expensive machine downtime and increased overall cost to operate the machinery.  A process audit, which is used in end-user environments to document specific sensing/electronic measurement/network/connectivity issues, can assist with reducing machine downtime, increasing productivity and reducing material consumption on the plant floor.

Getting to Root Cause of Failure

Finding out and documenting exactly why things prematurely fail in specific electronic locations by Cell Number and OPS Number, photographing each problematic sensor location and offering solutions to areas where components are prematurely failing is the heart and soul of an audit. It’s pretty amazing, but once problem areas are documented, and shared with every pertinent player from the corner office to the operator, it’s hard to refute and even harder to ignore.

Understanding the problem and why it is happening, allows a company to establish a timeline and an action plan for retrofitting sensor locations and developing best practice solutions that will enhance productivity, decrease machine downtime, build better parts with efficiency, and save the organization money.

Pictured below is a plain Jane, plastic faced, M5 inductive proximity sensor with minimal rated sensing distance (Sn) in a hostile spot that a customer is using to detect small “L” brackets on a huge welded panel.  If five of these are used per day (common), and the purchase price for the device is approximately $56 each, this equates to $280 per day or $1,680 per six-day work week. That totals to $84,000 spent per year for one inductive sensor in one individual sensor location.  If machine downtime is a nominal $250/minute (a very low estimation) and it takes five minutes to change out this sensor, machine downtime equates to $375,000 (1,500 sensors x $250).  One sensor can potentially cost this customer $459k per 50 week manufacturing year when factoring in material and downtime.

Dave Bird

If best practice solutions save the customer 50% (In fairness, most customers will only go so far to improve the process.), the business will see a savings of $229,500!

This is a significant payoff for the relatively small cost of an audit. Some businesses will provide them at no charge in the hope that the customer will then use that business to implement the best practice solutions — a win-win situation.

A small price to pay

Audits aren’t reserved for only harsh manufacturing environments like metal stamping and robotic welding. Any end-user manufacturing discipline that integrates sensors, connectivity, RFID, and networking systems that are consumed in the process of a hostile manufacturing environment is a candidate for an audit.

Hostile manufacturing can show up in all industries in all parts of the country.  The process audit can be a valuable tool for you and for your customers.

Reviewing options for optimized level detection in the food & beverage industry

Level detection plays an important role in the food and beverage industry, both in production and filling. Depending on the application, there are completely different requirements for level detection and, therefore, different requirements for the technologies and sensors to solve each task.

In general, we can differentiate between two requirements — Do I want to continuously monitor my filling level so that I can make a statement about the current level at any time? Or do I want to know if my filling level has reached the minimum or maximum?

Let’s look at both requirements and the appropriate level sensors and technologies in detail.

Precisely detecting point levels

For point level detection we have three different options.

A through-beam fork sensor on the outside of the tank is well suited for transparent container walls and very special requirements. Very accurate and easy to install, it is a good choice for critical filling processes while also being suitable for foaming materials.

Image 1
One point level detection through transparent container walls

For standard applications and non-metallic tank walls, capacitive sensors, which can be mounted outside the tank, are often the best choice. These sensors work by detecting the change of the relative electric permittivity. The measurement does not take place in direct contact with the medium.

Figure 2
Minimum/maximum level detection with capacitive sensors

For applications with metal tanks, there are capacitive sensors, which can be mounted inside the tank. Sensors, which meet the special requirements for cleanability (EHEDG, IP69K) and food contact material (FCM) required in the food industry,  are mounted via a thread and a sealing element inside the tank. For conductive media such as ketchup, specially developed level sensors can be used which ignore the adhesion to the active sensor surface.

Figure 3
Capacitive sensors mounted inside the tank

Continuous level sensing

Multiple technologies can be used for continuous level sensing as well. Choosing the best one depends on the application and the task.

Continuous level detection can also be solved with the capacitive principle. With the aid of a capacitive adhesive sensor, the level can be measured from the outside of the tank without any contact with the sensor. The sensor can be easily attached to the tank without the use of additional accessories. This works best for tanks up to 850 mm.

Figure 4
Continuous level detection with a capacitive sensor head

If you have fast and precise filling processes, the magnetostrictive sensing principle is the right choice. It offers very high measuring rate and accuracy. It can be used for tank heights from 200 mm up to several meters. Made especially for the food and beverage  industry, the sensor has the Ecolab, 3A and FDA certifications. Thanks to corrosion-free stainless steel, the sensor is safe for sterilization (SIP) and cleaning (CIP) in place.

Figure 5
Level detection via magnetostrictive sensing principle

If the level must be continuously monitored from outside the tank, hydrostatic pressure sensors are suitable. Available with a triclamp flange for hygienic demands, the sensor is mounted at the bottom of the tank and the level is indirectly measured through the pressure of the liquid column above the sensor.

Figure 6
Level detection via hydrostatic pressure sensor

Level detection through ultrasonic sensors is also perfect for the hygienic demands in the food industry. Ultrasonic sensors do not need a float, are non-contact and wear-free, and installation at the top of the tank is easy. Additionally, they are insensitive to dust and chemicals. There are even sensors available which can be used in pressurized tanks up to 6 bar.

Figure 7
Level detection via ultrasonic sensor

Product bundle for level monitoring in storage tanks

On occasion, both types of level monitoring are required. Take this example.

The tanks in which a liquid is stored at a food manufacturer are made of stainless steel. This means the workers are not able to recognize whether the tanks are full or empty, meaning they can’t tell when the tanks need to be refilled to avoid production downtime.

The solution is an IO-Link system which consists of different filling sensors and a light to visualize the filling level. With the help of a pressure sensor attached to the bottom of the tanks, the level is continuously monitored. This is visualized by a machine light so that the employee can see how full the tank is when passing by. The lights indicate when the tank needs to be refilled, while a capacitive sensor indicates when the tank is full eliminating overfilling and material waste.

Figure 8
Level monitoring in storage tanks

To learn more about solutions for level detection visit balluff.com

What’s So Smart About a Smart Camera?

Smart “things” are coming into the consumer market daily. If one Googles “Smart – Anything” they are sure to come up with pages of unique products which promise to make life easier. No doubt, there was a marketing consortium somewhere that chose to use the word “smart” to describe a device which includes many and variable features. The smart camera is a great example of one such product where its name only leads to more confusion due to the relative and ambiguous term used to summarize a large list of features. A smart camera, used in many manufacturing processes and applications, is essentially a more intuitive, all-in-one, plug-and-play, mid-level technology camera.

OK, so maybe the marketing consortium is on to something. “Smart” does indicate a lot of features in a simple, single word, but it is important to determine if those smart features translate into benefits that help solve problems. If a smart camera is really smart it should include the following list of benefits:

  • Intuitive: To say it is easy to use just doesn’t cut it. To say it is easy for a vision engineer to use doesn’t mean that it is easy for an operator, a controls engineer, production engineer, etc. The camera should allow someone who has basic vision knowledge and minimal vision experience to select tools (logically named) and solve general applications without having to consult a manufacturer for a 2 day on-site visit for training and deployment.
  • All-In-One: The camera should house the whole package. This includes the software, manuals, network connections, etc. If the camera requires an external device like a laptop or an external switch to drive it, then it doesn’t qualify as smart.
  • Plug-and-play: Quick set up and deployment is the key. If the camera requires days of training and consultation just to get it up and running, then it’s not smart.
  • Relative technology: Smart cameras don’t necessarily need to have the highest end resolution, memory, or processing speed. These specs simply need to be robust enough to address the application. The best way to determine that is by conducting a feasibility study along with the manufacturer to make sure you are not paying for technology that won’t be needed or used.

Ultimately, a lot of things can be described as “smart”, but if you can make an effort to investigate what smart actually means, it’s a whole lot easier to eliminate the “gotchas” that tend to pop up at the most inopportune times.

Note: As with any vision application, the most important things to consider are lighting, lenses and fixtures. I have heard vision gurus say those three things are more critical than the camera itself.

How do I justify an IIoT investment to my boss?

Many engineers and managers I meet with when presenting at conferences on Smart Manufacturing ask some version of the question: “How can we justify the extra cost of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?” or “How do I convince management that we need an Industry 4.0 project?” This is absolutely a fair and tough question that needs to be answered; without buy-in from management and proper budget allocation, you can’t move forward. While an investment in IIoT can deliver major payoffs, the best justification really depends on your boss.

I have seen three strong arguments that can be adapted to a variety of management styles and motivations.

1) Showing a ROI through Reducing Downtime

“Show me the money!” I think everyone has a manager with this expectation. It may seem like a daunting task to calculate or capture this information, but by using a team, knowing your KPIs and applying anecdotal feedback, you can get a good initial picture of the ROI that an IIoT project will bring to the organization. Many people have shared with me that their initial project’s ROI has “funded the next project.” There is a really great article from MetalForming Magazine that discusses how exactly to do this with the tables and forms they used at ODM Tool & Manufacturing.

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2) Corporate Goals for Productivity and Utilization

We can be successful getting support for a project when we link corporate goals to project goals. Smart Industry publishes a research project each year that investigates trends in the manufacturing space in regards to digital transformation initiatives. This report cites that the three top benefits manufacturers are seeing are: improving worker productivity (3rd 2016), reducing costs (1st 2016) and optimizing asset utilization (2nd 2016). These goals are driving investments and showing actual results for manufacturers both large and small. However, the report also revealed that more than half of manufacturers cite workforce skills-gap issues as their largest roadblock and this is, I believe, why we saw improving worker productivity move to the top spot. We must bring efficiency and effectiveness to the people we have.

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3) Your Competitors are Investing in IIoT!

If you have a boss that worries about falling behind, this can be a motivating argument. Control Engineering recently published a study of manufacturers and how they are investing in IIoT technologies. The largest investments are coming with sensors, connectivity and data analytics. But what is most shocking is that on average IIoT budgets are $328,160, with 18% budgeting more than a half-million dollars. If you want to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the global market, an investment in IIoT is a requirement to remain competitive.

If you are looking for support and partnership on your IIoT projects, we are experienced at utilizing IO-Link, smart sensors and RFID to enable Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing projects.

Changing the Paradigm from Safety vs. Productivity to Safety & Productivity

In a previous blog, we discussed how “Safety Over IO-Link Helps Enable Human-Robot Collaboration”. It was a fairly narrow discussion of collaborative robot modes and how sensors and networks can make it easier to implement these modes and applications. This new blog takes a broader look at the critical role safety plays in the intersection between the machine and the user.

In the past, the machine guarding philosophy was to completely separate the human from the machine or robot.  Unfortunately, this resulted in the paradigm of “safety vs. productivity” — you either had safety or productivity, but you couldn’t have both. This paradigm is now shifting to “safety & productivity”, driven by a combination of updated standards and new technologies which allow closer human-machine interaction and new modes of collaborative operation.

Tom_Safety1.pngThe typical machine/robot guarding scheme of the past used fences or hard guards to separate the human from the machine.  Doors were controlled with safety interlock switches, which required the machine to stop on access, such as to load/unload parts or to perform maintenance or service, and this reduced productivity.  It was also not 100% effective because workers inside a machine area or work cell might not be detected if another worker restarted the stopped machine.  Other drawbacks included the cost of space, guarding, installation, and difficultly changing the work cell layout once hard guarding had been installed.

We’ve now come to an era when our technology and standards allow improved human access to the machine and robot cell.  We’re starting to think about the human working near or even with the machine/robot. The robot and machinery standards have undergone several changes in recent years and now allow new modes of operation.  These have combined with new safety technologies to create a wave of robot and automation suppliers offering new robots, controllers, safety and other accessories.

Standards
Machine and robot safety standards have undergone rapid change in recent years. Standard IEC 61508, and the related machinery standards EN/ISO 13849-1 and EN/IEC 62061, take a functional approach to safety and define new safety performance levels. This means they focus more on the functions needed to reduce each risk and the level of performance required for each function, and less on selection of safety components. These standards helped define, and made it simpler and more beneficial, to apply safety PLCs and advanced safety components. There have also been developments in standards related to safe motion (61800-5-2) which now allow more flexible modes of motion under closely controlled conditions. And the robot standards (10218, ANSI RIA 15.06, TS15066) have made major advances to allow safety-rated soft axes, space limiting and collaborative modes of operation.

Technology
On the technology side, innovations in sensors, controllers and drives have changed the way humans interact with machines and enabled much closer, more coordinated and safer operation. Advanced sensors, such as safety laser scanners and 3D safety cameras, allow creation of work cells with zones, which makes it possible for an operator to be allowed in one zone while the robot performs tasks in a different zone nearby. Controllers now integrate PLC, safety, motion control and other functions, allowing fast and precise control of the process. And drives/motion systems now operate in various modes which can limit speed, torque, direction, etc. in certain modes or if someone is detected nearby.

Sensors and Networks
The monitoring of these robots, machines and “spaces” requires many standard and safety sensors, both inside and outside the machine or robot. But having a lot of sensors does not necessarily allow the shift from “productivity vs. safety” to “productivity & safety” — this requires a closely coordinated and integrated system, including the ability to monitor and link the “restricted space” and “safeguarded space.” This is where field busses and device-level networks can enable tight integration of devices with the control system. IO-Link masters and Safety Over IO-Link hubs allow the connection of a large number of devices to higher level field busses (ProfiNet/ProfiSafe) with effortless device connection using off-the-shelf, non-shielded cables and connectors.

Balluff offers a wide range of solutions for robot and machine monitoring, including a broad safety device portfolio which includes safety light curtains, safety switches, inductive safety sensors, an emergency stop device and a safety hub. Our sensors and networks support the shift to include safety without sacrificing productivity.

Back to the Basics – Measuring

In the last post about the Basics of Automation, we discussed how objects can be detected, collected and positioned with the help of sensors. Now, let’s take a closer look at how non-contact measurement – both linear and rotary – works to measure distance, travel, angles, and pressure.

Measuring travel, distance, position, angle and pressure are common tasks in automation. The measuring principles used are as varied as the different tasks.

Sensor Technologies

  • Magnetostrictive enables simultaneous measurement of multiple positions and can be used in challenging environments.
  • Magnet coded enables the highest accuracy and real-time measurement.
  • Inductive is used for integration in extremely tight spaces and is suitable for short distances.
  • Photoelectric features flexible range and is unaffected by the color or surface properties of the target object.

Different Sensors for Different Applications

Distance measurement

Janni1Disc brakes are used at various locations
in wind power plants. With their durability and precise measurement, inductive distance sensors monitor these brake discs continuously and provide a timely warning if the brake linings need to be changed.

In winding and unwinding equipment, a photoelectric sensor continuously measures the increasing or decreasing roll diameter. This means the rolls can be changed with

minimal stoppages.

Linear position measurement

Janni4Workpieces are precisely positioned on the

slide of a linear axis. This allows minimal loss of production time while ensuring quality. Magnetic encoders installed along the linear axis report the actual slide position to the controller (PLC) continuously and in real time — even when the slide is moving at a speed of up to 10 m/s.

In a machine tool the clamping state
of a spindle must be continuously monitored during machining. This improves results on the workpiece and increases the reliability of the overall system. Inductive positioning systems provide continuous feedback to the controller: whether the spindle is unclamped, clamped with a tool or clamped without a tool.

Rotational position measurement

Janni5Workpieces such as a metal plate are printed, engraved or cut on a cut/print machine. This demands special accuracy in positioning it on the machine. Magnetic encoders on both rotating axes of the machine measure the position of the workpiece and ensure an even feed rate.

In a parabolic trough system,
sunlight is concentrated on parabolic troughs using parabolic mirrors allowing the heat energy to be stored. To achieve the optimal energy efficiency, the position of the parabolic mirror must be guided to match the sun’s path. Inclination sensors report the actual position of the parabolic mirror to the controller, which then adjusts as needed.

Pressure and Level Measurement

Janni7Consistently high surface quality of the machined workpiece must be ensured in a machine tool. This requires continuous monitoring of the coolant feed system pressure. Pressure sensors can reliably monitor the pressure and shut down the machine within a few milliseconds when the defined pressure range is violated.

Janni8In many tanks and vats, the fill height of the liquid must be continually measured. This is accomplished using ultrasonic sensors, which note levels regardless of color, transparency or surface composition of the medium. These sensors detect objects made of virtually any material (even sound-absorbing) including liquids, granulates and powders.

Stay tuned for future posts that will cover the essentials of automation. To learn more about the Basics of Automation in the meantime, visit www.balluff.com.

Where Discrete Position Sensing Belongs in the Manufacturing Process

Unlike continuous position sensors which provide near real-time position feedback throughout the stroke of the cylinder, discrete position sensors are equipped with a switching functionality at one or more designated positions along the cylinder’s stroke. Typically, these positions are set to detect fully retracted and extended positions but one can also be used to detect mid-stroke position.

To determine which is right for you requires a review of your application and a determination of how precisely the movement of the cylinder needs to be controlled. Some hydraulic cylinder applications require no position sensing at all. These applications simply use the cylinder to move a load, and position control is either done manually or by some other external switch or stop. Moving up a step, many applications require only that the beginning and end of the cylinder stroke be detected so that the cylinder can be commanded to reverse direction. These applications are ideal for discrete position sensing.

Several types of sensors are used for discrete position detection, but one of the most common is high-pressure inductive proximity sensors, which are installed into the end caps of the cylinder. The sensors detect the piston as it reaches the end of the cylinder stroke in either direction.

These sensors are designed to withstand the full pressure of the hydraulic system. Inductive sensors are extremely reliable because they operate without any form of mechanical contact and are completely unaffected by changes in oil temperature or viscosity.

High-pressure
High-pressure inductive sensors installed in hydraulic cylinder

Discrete position sensors are used in applications such as hydraulic clamps, detection of open/closed position in welding operations, and in hydraulic compactors and balers for compacting materials until end of cylinder stroke is reached, at which point the cylinder retracts.

Additionally, it is quite common for pneumatically-actuated clamps and grippers to use discrete sensors to indicate fully extended and fully retracted positions, and in many cases, in-between positions as well. There are even applications where multiple discrete sensors are used in grippers for gauging and sizing work pieces.

By far, the most common method of providing discrete position in an air cylinder is to use externally-mounted switches that react to a magnet installed around the circumference of the piston. These magnetically-actuated switches can sense the field of a magnet embedded in the cylinder’s piston through the aluminum body of the cylinder.

magnetically actuated
Magnetically actuated sensor installed into cylinder C-slot

There are several different operating principles used in these magnetically-actuated switches, ranging from simple, low-cost reed switches and Hall-effect switches to significantly more reliable sensors that use magnetoresistive technology. One of the big advantages of magnetoresistive sensors is that they will reliably detect both radial and axial magnetic fields, making them ideal replacements for reed or Hall-effect switches.

Check out our previous blog to learn more about continuous position sensors.

IO-Link Master Differences – Part 3

In the first part of this series “Demystifying Class A and Class B Type IO-Link Ports” we discussed the two different types of IO-Link master ports and pointed out how they differ in operation and applications. The point of that blog was to ensure that when we choose one over the other, what is the opportunity cost of that decision.

In my recent blog, part #2 in this series, “Not all IO-Link Masters are Born Equal!“, we explored that even when multiple vendors provide or call out their IO-Link master, they are different in the implementation of features and functions they offer. IO-Link is IO-Link! It is a standard for communication but other features that accompany the communication differentiates how they behave; for example- sensor only master, hybrid master, and architecture backbone master.

In this blog, we will focus on various implementations of Port Type A (or Class A) and how they add varying degrees of value to your applications.

Implementation #1: Figure 1 below depicts the guts (electrical connections) of one of the three implementations of the IO-Link Class A master port. Two key things to notice here:

  • The power coming into the IO-Link master port is only device power. There is no output power with this implementation. The reason that it is designed like this is to only integrate sensor inputs.
  • Pin 1 and Pin 3 provide the device power and ground (common) to the IO-Link device, pin 4 is IO-Link communication. Pin 2 works as an input only for digital sensors like photo-eyes or prox switches. Basically, this port can be split to use one IO-Link sensor (pins 1, 3 and 4) and one standard ON/OFF sensor (pins 1,3, and 2).
Figure 1
Figure 1: Implementation 1 of Class-A IO-Link Master Port (The electrical drawings shown here are simplified for illustration only, the actual implementation drawings may be different)

Another alternate of this implementation is that some vendors may have another IO-Link connection on Pin 2. So, it serves to add 2 IO-Link devices off the same port. Unfortunately, I am not an expert to say whether this is according to the specification or not.

The Prso: Low power consumption and simplifies integrating smart sensors.

The Cons: By definition, a control system has both inputs and outputs – controlling “something” based on sensory inputs and logic. This implementation provides semi-standard implementation to the controls architecture. IO-Link promises unified communication across the plant floor not half of the plant floor. Characteristics of this type of master port would be max output current of about 250-300mA per port and about 2A per module (rated for up to 4A, if its carries UL).

Implementation #2: This implementation is a slight variation of the sensor only port (Implementation #1 above). It is achieved by adding an output capability for pin 2 on each port- shown in figure 2 below. It is important to note that although each port has output capability on pin 2, the output power is shared with the device power for the port. It implies that, in case of E-stop situations, where shutting off power to the valves/solenoids connected to pin 2 or an IO-Link device that requires an output power, the entire device power will be shut-off.  Basically, the state of the device connected to pin 2 and state of IO-Link devices connected on pin 4 will be lost or requires more elaborate approach (programming, testing and validation) in the controls side to handling these types of safety situations.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Implementation 2 of Class-A IO-Link Master Port (The electrical drawings shown here are simplified for illustration only, the actual implementation drawings may be different)

This type of implementation is commonly found on hybrid IO-Link master’s Class A (type A) port implementation.

The Pros: Flexibility to use pin 2 for input or output – standardized approach to all devices.

The Cons: Lack of ability to control the output power separate from the device power – causing variety of controls approaches (lots of precautions) when incorporating machine safety.

Implementation #3: This implementation offers the most flexibility in designing the controls architecture that utilizes IO-Link. Figure 3 depicts the implementation below.  In this case, the device power, as prior approaches, comes from pin 1 and pin 3 but pin 2 uses a separate power for output. The pin 2 on each of these ports can be used for input, output or to provide separate output power to the IO-Link devices. It is important to note that although pin 2 offers output power separate from the device power, the common/ground for this power is still tied to pin 3. The output power is separate but not isolated, like in the Class B port implementation discussed in the blog “Demystifying Class A and Class B Type IO-Link Ports“.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Implementation 3 of Class-A IO-Link Master Port (The electrical drawings shown here are simplified for illustration only, the actual implementation drawings may be different)

The two key advantages with this approach are: 1) High amperage output can be used from pin 2 to control valves or solenoids by splitting the port, and 2) IO-Link devices such as valve terminals or configurable I/O hubs that require output power can be connected with standard 4 pole cables without needing additional power cables or connectors.

This does appear very similar to implementation 2 where output power can be provided as well. The key difference is that since the output power comes from a different power line, it is not shared with the device power — as you know, amperage reduces when you have parallel circuits, so implementation 2 is subject to that principle whereas implementation #3 is not.

Another benefit with this approach is that a safety relay can be placed on the power going to pin 2 because the output power for the entire module is separate. That means in case of E-stop situations, the output power can be shut off without harming the device power. This eliminates the need for elaborated controls planning as the device state is maintained throughout the operation. After recovering from an E-stop, the valves and all other outputs go back to their original state. This significantly simplifies your controls architecture, offers standardized approach to cabling and provides unified interface for all devices.

To learn more about Balluff’s implementation of IO-Link masters please visit www.balluff.com.

How RFID Can Push Your Automotive Production Into the Fast Lane

The automotive industry is one of the technological trendsetters in the manufacturing industry. In 1913 Henry Ford invented the assembly line and forever changed automotive production. Now a bit more than a century later the automotive industry is again facing one the biggest innovations in its history.

The complexity of different models and the variety of equipment variations are enormous. This individuality comes with great challenges. The workers in the assembly process are confronted with countless, almost identical components. This requires accurate tracking of all items to avoid mistakes. Safety-relevant components are, therefore, often provided with a barcode that has to be scanned manually.

The major advantages of RFID over barcodes in automotive production

Another technology could relieve employees of this routine task and give them the security of having installed the right parts through automatic testing: RFID. These are the big advantages of RFID over barcodes:

  • While the barcode only contains the information about which type of product it is, the RFID tag provides additional information, such as in which vehicle the car seat is to be installed.
  • While the barcodes have to be read out manually one after the other with a handheld scanner, the RFID tags can all be detected simultaneously and without contact via a scanner – even if the parts are already installed.
  • RFID tags can be used to retrieve information in seconds at any time. During the production process, it can already be checked whether all the required components are installed –  provided they are all equipped with an RFID tag. Without RFID, this was only recorded in the final inspection, using visual inspection and paper list.
  • Additionally, nowadays it is indispensable for the automotive industry to make the production parts traceable and thereby assign them a unique identity. RFID has the advantage that without visual contact or even after a repainting of the component, the information can be easily retrieved. The function is not lost with dirt or oil coverage. Furthermore, tags with special encapsulation can retain their function even under high mechanical, thermal or chemical loads.

How does RFID work?

RFID is the identification of objects by electromagnetic waves.  A reader generates a high-frequency electromagnetic field. If a data carrier (also called “tag”) is brought into the vicinity of the reader, the specific structure of the tag ensures a change in the field and thus transmits individual information about itself – contactless.

RFID Tag and Reader
Functional principle of an RFID system

Increase process reliability and profitability with RFID

Several thousand parts are needed to build a car. But only those parts that are safety, environmentally or testing relevant get an RFID tag. For example, the motor cabling would get a tag that can be read out automatically. Without RFID a worker would have to manually enter the label in a database and errors can easily arise. RFID detects the part automatically and you don’t have to look for labels in transport boxes, etc.

With RFID you know exactly where a component is located at any time – from the moment of delivery until the belt run of the car. With this information you can react flexibly to changes in the process, such as delays in certain areas, and can reschedule at short notice. In addition, you can always retrieve the current stock and know whether the right component is mounted on the right vehicle. So it can significantly increase process reliability and efficiency. An RFID solution eliminates several manual steps in the documentation per vehicle, and it brings more transparency to the logistics and production processes. That means the effort is reduced and the profitability increases.

The implementation starts with the suppliers

Ideally, the implementation of RFID starts with the automotive suppliers. They attach the RFID tags to their components what allows them to use the technology within their own logistics and manufacturing facilities. On arrival to the car manufacturer, the parts are driven through an RFID gate that reads out the tags automatically and adds the parts to the inventory. If the car leaves the assembly hall after manufacturing you can screen again by the RFID gate. At the push of a button it can show which parts are under the hood.

Automatic configuration with UHF for your convenience

The processes in the automotive industry are versatile, but a broad selection of innovative RFID products can push your automotive production into the fast lane.

For more information on RFID, visit www.balluff.com.