The “most popular” annual lists don’t usually come out until the end of the year, but I think it is worth mentioning now three applications that have gained substantial momentum this year. With the Smart Factory concept being driven around the globe, RFID has emerged from the shadows and taken its place in the spotlight. The demand for a larger amount of data, more security, and increased visibility into the production process has launched RFID into a leading role when it comes to automation.
Machine Access Control
When considering RFID being utilized for access control, they think about readers located near doorways either outside the building or within the plant. While those readers operate much like the industrial readers, they typically cannot communicate over an industrial communication protocol like Ethernet/IP, Profinet, or IO-Link. With an industrial access control reader one can limit access to HMIs, PLCs, and various control systems by verifying the user and allowing access to the appropriate controls. This extra layer of security also ensures operator accountability by identifying the user.
Machine Tool ID
RFID has been used in machining centers for decades. However, it was used mostly in larger scale operations where there were acres of machines and hundreds of tools. Today it’s being used in shops with as few as one machine. The ROI is dependent on the number of tool changes in a shift; not necessarily just the number of machines and the number of tools in the building. The greater the number of tool changes, the greater the risk of data input errors, tool breakage, and even a crash.
Since RFID is capable of reading through cardboard and plastic, it is commonly used to verify the contents of a container. Tags are fixed to the critical items in the box, like a battery pack or bag of hardware, and passed through a reader to verify their presence. If, in this case, two tags are not read at the final station then the box can be opened and supplied with the missing part before it ships. This prevents an overload on aftersales support and ensures customers get what they ordered.
While RFID is still widely used to address Work in Process (WIP), asset tracking, and logistics applications, the number of alternative applications involving RFID has skyrocketed due to an increase in demand for actionable data. Manufacturing organizations around the world have standardized on RFID as a solution in cases where accountability, reliability and quality are critical.
An industrial RFID system is a powerful solution for reliably and comprehensively documenting individual working steps in manufacturing environments. But an industrial RFID system that meets your application needs isn’t available off-the-shelf. To build the system you need, it is important to consider what problems you hope RFID will solve and what return on investments you hope to see.
RFID can deliver many benefits, including process visibility and providing data needed to better manage product quality. It can be used to improve safety, satisfaction and profit margins. It can even be used to help comply with regulatory standards or to manage product recalls. And RFID can be used in a wide range of applications from broad areas like supply management to inventory tracking to more specific applications. These improvements can improve time, cost or performance—though not typically all three.
It is essential to understand and document the goal and how improvements will be measured to in order to plan a RFID system (readers, antennas, tags, cables) to best meet those goals.
Other important questions to consider:
Will the system be centralized or de-centralized? Will the system be license plate only or contain process data on the tag?
How will the data on the tags be used? Will the information be used to interface with a PLC, database or ERP? Will it be used to provide MES or logical functionality? Or to provide data to an HMI or web browser/cloud interface?
Will the system be required to comply with any international regulations or standards? If so, which ones: EPC Global, Class 1 Gen 2 (UHF only), ISO 15693, or 14443 (HF only)?
What environment does the system need to perform in? Will it be used indoor or outdoor? Will it be exposed to liquids (cleaning fluids, coolants, machine oils, caustics) or high or low temperatures?
Does the RFID system need to work with barcodes or any other human readable information?
What are the performance expectations for the components? What is the read/write range distance from head to tag? What is the station cycle timing? Is the tag metal-mounted? Does the tag need to be reused or be disposable? What communication bus is required?
With a clear set of objectives and goals, the mechanical and physical requirements discovered by answering the questions above, and guidance from an expert, a RFID system can be configured that meets your needs and delivers a strong return on investment.
While RFID technology has been in use since the 1950s, wide-spread implementation has come in waves over the years. Beginning with military applications where it was used to identify friend or foe aircraft, to inventory control in the retail industry, and now to the manufacturing space where it is being used to manage work in process, track assets, control inventory, and aid with automatic replenishment.
The bottom line is RFID is critical in the manufacturing process. Why? Because, fundamentally, it provides actionable data that is used to make critical decisions. If your organization has not yet subscribed to RFID technology then it is getting ready to. This doesn’t mean just in the shipping and receiving area. Wide-spread adoption is happening on the production line, in the tool room, on dies, molds, machine tools, on AGV’s, on pallets, and so much more.
Learn about the fundamentals of a passive RFID system here.
In the past, controls engineers, quality assurance managers, and maintenance supervisors were early adopters because RFID played a critical role in giving them the data they needed. Thanks to global manufacturing initiatives like Smart Factory, Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of things (IIOT) and a plethora of other manufacturing buzz words, CEOs, CFOs, and COOs are driving RFID concepts today. So, while the “hands-on” members of the plant started the revolution, the guys in the corner offices quickly recognized the power of RFID and accelerated the adoption of the technology.
While there is a frenzy in the market, it is important to keep a few things in mind when exploring how RFID can benefit your organization:
Choose your RFID partner based on their core competency in addressing manufacturing applications
Make sure they have decades of experience manufacturing and implementing RFID
Have them clearly explain their “chain of support” from local resources to experts at the HQ.
Find a partner who can clearly define the benefits of RFID in your specific process (ROI)
Partner with a company that innovates the way their customers automate
In all industries, there is a need for more flexible and individualized production as well as increased transparency and documentable processes. Overall equipment efficiency, zero downtime and the demand for shorter production runs have created the need for smart machines and ultimately the smart factory. Now more than ever, this is important in the Packaging, Food and Beverage (PFB) industry to ensure that the products and processes are clean, safe and efficient.
Take a look at how the Smart Factory can be implemented in Packaging, Food, and Beverage industries.
Updating Controls Architecture
Eliminates analog wiring and reduces costs by 15% to 20%
Enables visibility down to the sensor/device
Eliminates manual configuration of devices and sensors
Automating Guided Format Change and Change Parts
Eliminates changeover errors
Reduces planned downtime to perform change over
Reduces product waste from start-up after a change over
Consistent positioning every time
Ensures proper change parts are swapped out
Predictive Maintenance through IO-Link
Reduces unplanned downtime
Provides condition monitoring
Provides more accurate data
Reduces equipment slows and stops
Reduces product waste
Delivers accurate data and reduced errors
Tracks raw materials and finished goods
Date and lot code accuracy for potential product recall
Allows robust tags to be embedded in totes, pallets, containers, and fixtures
Increases security with access control
Why is all of this important?
Converting a manufacturing process to a smart process will improve many aspects and cure pains that may have been encountered in the past. In the PFB industry, downtime can be very costly due to raw material having a short expiration date before it must be discarded. Therefore, overall equipment efficiency (OEE) is an integral part of any process within PFB. Simply put, OEE is the percentage of manufacturing time that is truly productive. Implementing improved controls architecture, automating change over processes, using networking devices that feature predictive maintenance, and incorporating RFID technology for traceability greatly improve OEE and reduce time spent troubleshooting to find a solution to a reoccurring problem.
Through IO-Link technology and smart devices connected to IO-Link, time spent searching for the root of a problem is greatly reduced thanks to continuous diagnostics and predictive maintenance. IO-Link systems alert operators to sensor malfunctions and when preventative maintenance is required.
Unlike preventative maintenance, which only captures 18% of machine failures and is based on a schedule, predictive maintenance relies on data to provide operators and controls personnel critical information on times when they may need to do maintenance in the future. This results in planned downtime which can be strategically scheduled around production runs, as opposed to unplanned downtime that comes with no warning and could disrupt a production run.
Reducing the time it takes to change over a machine to a different packaging size allows the process to finish the batch quicker than if a manual change over was used, which in turn means a shorter production run for that line. Automated change over allows the process to be exact every time and eliminates the risk of operator error due to more accurate positioning.
Traceability using RFID can be a very important part of the smart PFB factory. Utilizing RFID throughout the process —tracking of raw materials, finished goods, and totes leaving the facility — can greatly increase the efficiency and throughput of the process. RFID can even be applied to change part detection to identify if the correct equipment is being swapped in or out during change over.
Adding smart solutions to a PFB production line improves efficiency, increases output, minimizes downtime and saves money.
As we progress toward a more automated factory, the need to more efficiently manage what happens prior to the production process has become apparent. Tracking of raw material and production components from the dock door to the warehouse is quickly evolving from a best guess estimate to real-time inventory levels driven by production. Essentially, we are moving from a practice of holding just-in-case inventory to Just-in-Time (JIT) inventory. The JIT concept helps to optimize the amount of in-house inventory based on production. In addition, the entire supply chain benefits because the levels of raw goods inventory upstream can be managed more efficiently and forecasted with more accuracy.
RFID and barcode technology have played a critical role in the actual production process for decades, but its benefits are currently being leveraged in other areas of the plant as well. Whether its tracking every item or every pallet that comes into the receiving dock, ID traceability provides visibility where it did not exist before.
Traceability of production material
Upon receiving a pallet with raw material, the 2D matrix code on the shipping label is read by a barcode scanner. The relevant data needed for the further traceability process is transferred onto the stack of trays which contain UHF carriers. The number of carriers is saved together with the traceability data in a database. This process takes place at one single station and the data is updated immediately to represent the inventory level.
Automated review of loaded pallets
Based on the material number, the system contains a standard load for the number of trays on the pallet. An automatic screening takes place to determine if all transponders on the pallet are registered. In case of a difference between the registered data and the expected data, an error message pops up to indicate the need for manual intervention. This process allows for proactive management of inventory to prevent false inventory levels or goods that cannot be accounted for.
Key Features of a traceability solution:
Corresponds to the global ISO standard
Suitable for attachment to major control systems via bus interfaces and higher level IT systems
Variety of accessories available for easy integration into different applications
So, you have reached a point where you believe RFID is going to be the best solution. Now what? One of the most critical phases of a RFID project is deciding which product is going to address the application. While the planning stage can be highly conceptual, the hardware selection is truly a close-up inspection. This is where the rubber meets the road.
Here are the top five things, in no specific order, to consider after you have determined RFID is the appropriate technology for your application:
How much and how fast? How much data will be written to the tag and how much data will be read from the tag at each read point? Will the tag be moving during the read/write or will it stop in front of the antenna? Some RFID systems are capable of handling a large amount of data, while others are designed to read only small amounts of data. It is also important to consider if your data requirements will change in the near future.
What is the required distance from the antenna to the tag? Will the tag be presented to the antenna at the same distance every time? Multiple frequency ranges can limit some systems to a few millimeters, while others are capable of communicating up to six or seven meters.
How much space do you have to mount both the reader and the tag? If space is limited, you can choose a system in which the antenna and the processor are combined in one housing. As for the tags, they can be as small as a grain of rice or as large as a license plate. The key is to make sure the equipment will not interfere with your process.
How will the RFID processor “talk” to the control system? This is critical in a mixed control environment where multiple brands of PLCs or servers are present. What communication protocol do your controls engineers prefer — Ethernet/IP, Profinet, CC-Link, TCP/IP, etc?
Where will the equipment actually be mounted? Does anything stand in the way of getting a clear read? Are there metal beams, tanks of liquid, or even operators walking in between the tag and antenna? This is probably the most critical of all the considerations because constant interference will block the antenna from reading or writing to the tag. While RFID technology has come a long way in recent years, metal and liquid can still affect the RF waves.
Keep these five things in mind and your RFID implementation will go a lot smoother!
It’s not just IIoT that has focused attention on RFID as a central component of automation. As a key technology, radio frequency identification has been long established in production. The inductive operating principle guarantees ruggedness and resistance to environmental stress factors. This makes the system highly reliable in function and operation. With unlimited read/write cycles and real-time communication, RFID has become indispensable. The beginnings for the industrial use of RFID go far back. RFID was first successfully used on machine tools in the mid-1980’s. Since the usage of RFID tags on cutting tool holders has been internationally standardized (ISO 7388 for SK shanks, ISO12164 for HSK shanks), there has been strong growth of RFID usage in cutting tool management.
Track-and-trace of workpieces
Modern manufacturing with a wide bandwidth of batch sizes and ever compressed production times demands maximum transparency. This is the only way to meet the high requirements for flexibility and quality, and to minimize costs. Not only do the tools need to be optimally managed, but also the finished parts and materials used must be unambiguously recognized and assigned.
RFID frequencies LF and HF – both RFID worlds come together
In terms of data transmission for cutting tool identification, established systems have settled on LF (Low Frequency), as this band has proven to be especially robust and reliable in metal surroundings. Data is read with LF at a frequency of 455 kHz and written at 70 kHz.
When it comes to intralogistics and tracking of workpieces, HF (High Frequency) has become the standard in recent years. This is because HF systems with a working frequency of 13.56 MHz offer greater traverse speeds and a more generous read/write distance.
As a result, RFID processor units have been introduced that offer frequency-independent application. By using two different read-/write heads (one for tool identification and one for track-and-trace of workpieces) that each interface to a single processor unit, the communication to the control system is achieved in an economical manner.
New Hybrid Read-Write Head
Industrial equipment is designed for a working life of 20 years or even more. Therefore, in production you often find machines which were designed in the last century next to new machines that were installed when the production capacity was enlarged. In such a brown field factory you have the coexistence of proven technology and modern innovative equipment. For the topic of industrial RFID, it means that both low frequency and high frequency RFID tags are used. To use both the existing infrastructure and to introduce modern and innovative equipment, RFID read/write heads have been recently developed with LF and HF technology in one housing. It does not matter whether a LF RFID tag or a HF RFID tag approaches the RFID head. The system will automatically detect whether the tag uses LF or HF technology and will start to communicate in the right frequency.
This hybrid read-write head adds flexibility to the machine tools and tool setters as you can use the entire inventory of your cutting tools and tool holders.
RFID Tool ID tag ready for the Cloud
The classical concept of data storage in Tool ID is a decentralized data storage, which means that all relevant data (tool dimensions, tool usage time, machining data, etc.) of a tool/tool holder is stored on the RFID tag which is mounted on the single tool holder. The reliability and availability of this concept data has been proven for more than 25 years now.
With the Internet of Things IIOT, the concept of cloud computing is trendy. All — tool setter, machine tool and tool stock systems — are connected to the cloud and exchange data. In this case only an identifier is needed to move and receive the data to and from the cloud. For this type of data management Tool ID tags with the standard (DIN 69873) size diameter 10 x 4,5 mm are available now in a cost effective version with a 32 Byte memory.
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.
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.
Digitalization does not stop at the packaging industry. There is a clear trend toward more individual packaging and special formats. What does this mean for packers and packaging machine manufacturers? The variants increase for every single packer, and this leads to a decreased batch size. The packer needs highly flexible machines, which he can easily adjust to the different formats and special variants. The machine manufacturer, in turn, must make these flexible machines available. What does this format change look like? Which technologies can support the packer optimally?
There are two different format adjustment tasks to perform. One is the adjustment of guide rails, side belts or link chains so that they can be adapted to the new format. The other is the changing of parts when a new format is to be produced.
Both tasks have different demands concerning automation technology and therefore there are different solutions available.
Format adjustment is the adjustment of guide rails, side belts or link chains. In order to carry out this adjustment quickly, safely and error-free, precise position information is required. This recorded position information can then be used to support manual adjustment on the display unit or it can be transferred to the PLC for fully automatic adjustment. One possible solution is to use different position measuring systems. Various standardized interfaces are available as transmission formats, including IO-Link.
IO-Link has ideal features that are predestined for format adjustment: sufficient speed, full access to all parameters, automatic configuration, and absolute transmission of measured values. This eliminates the need for time-consuming reference runs. Since the machine control remains permanently traceable, the effort for error-prone written paper documentation is also saved.
One example for a non-contact absolute position measuring system
A magnetic encoded position measuring system is ideally suited for position detection during format adjustment. It is insensitive to dust, dirt and moisture, offers high accuracy and a measuring length of up to 8,190 mm. Therefore, the position determination and the speed control during the change of guide rails, sidebands or link chains are no problem.
When changing to a different format size, it is often necessary to not only adjust guide rails but to also replace changeable parts. Machines are becoming more and more flexible, which means that the number of changeable parts per machine is growing. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the machine operator to find the right part and even more difficult to find the correct mounting position. This conceals some avoidable sources of error. If the replacement part is installed incorrectly, it can cause machine damage, which can lead to downtime.
Therefore, a fast recognition of changeable parts is all about reliably detecting the changeable part at the correct position in the machine. It is also important to make it as easy as possible for the operator to detect possible faults before they happen via a visualization system.
One way of identifying exchangeable parts is industrial identification with RFID.
The right part at the right position
When changing a machine over to a new format you can use RFID data carriers or barcodes to ensure that the correct new parts are being used. Vision sensors also detect whether the part was installed correctly or incorrectly. These solutions help you prevent errors and machine damage, which in turn increases throughput and reduces production costs.
Implement predictive maintenance
With RFID data carriers, the operating times of each change part can be documented directly on the part itself. If a part needs to be cleaned, replaced or reworked, a notification or alarm is issued in the machine controller before fault conditions can arise. RFID data carriers also allow regular cleaning cycles to be logged.
Automate machine settings
Since you can store the individual setting parameters for the change part on the data carrier, the part itself also provides the information to the machine controller. Thus, the change part can trigger a format change in the PLC and change the production process. This is an important step toward intelligent production in the Industry 4.0 concept.
With an LED signal lamp, the operator can recognize the operating status of the machine quickly, easily and at a glance. Among other things, it serves to monitor the operating windows and signals whether all settings have been made correctly. The segments of the signal lamp can be configured so that one machine lamp meets a wide range of requirements.
Format adjustment involves changing guide rails, sidebands or link chains due to a new format. This can be semi-automated or fully automated on the machines. It requires displacement measuring systems whose sensors provide feedback on the respective position.
If format parts on the machine have to be replaced, it must be ensured that the correct changeable part is installed at the correct position in the machine. Industrial identification systems such as RFID are suitable for this purpose. Each changeable part is equipped with a tag and, with the help of the read/write heads, it recognizes whether the correct changeable part is installed in the correct place.
Both automation options offer the following advantages:
Short set-up times and increased system productivity
Efficient error prevention
Increased machine flexibility
Avoidance of machine damage due to wrong parts when starting up the machine
Unscheduled downtimes in production due to worn out or unserviced molds in machines can cause high costs and are a well-known problem for a lot of companies. In order to prevent these issues and optimize the use of their injection molds, a Swiss chocolate mold producer installed a predictive maintenance system via industrial RFID technology.
Maintaining oversight during frequent mold changes with RFID
Complex and expensive injection molds are typically used in manufacturing parts. Due to wear and contamination, they require regular cleaning, care and maintenance. The regularity often depends on handwritten records in a molds log-book, post-its or on the experience of the employees. In more modern companies, databases or excel sheets may be used to store this information. Regardless of the method, real-world experience shows that manual recording is often prone to errors. Maintenance and inspection are often only carried out if a mold malfunctions, when it tends to be too late.
Poured chocolate molds, that are used in continuous operation on the production lines of chocolate manufacturers, are known worldwide for their perfection and durability. In most cases, they are made in comparatively small batch sizes of 1500 to 2000 units. For this reason, the injection molds have a modular structure. The base is a master mold with exchangeable inserts which leads to quick and frequent mold change cycles. Additionally, there are certain things that require increased maintenance, like replacing hoses, lines or connecting components, that involve removing the master mold. This is why it is especially important to keep track of how many times a master mold has been used. A control system via industrial RFID technology can be installed to solve this problem.