Optimized Utilization and Increased Transparency with RFID

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 endure wear and need regular maintenance

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.

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UHF making a big impact on manufacturing

RFIDUltra-High Frequency (UHF) RFID is quickly becoming the go-to identification system for flexible manufacturing lines around the world. While it was once considered to be a system designed primarily for distribution centers and retail stores, UHF technology has evolved to meet the rigors of the manufacturing environment.

Not long ago I was in a discussion with one of my customers who had been using RFID for almost 25 years. He was caught in a tough spot because he had an application which required reading tags from as little as six inches away to as far as two feet away. The HF system he had could easily meet his needs for the six inch read range, but reading at two feet away limited him to using UHF. When I explained that, his bewildered look indicated to me he was reluctant to consider UHF as a real option. He went on to explain that about ten years prior he conducted tests in his plant with UHF and found a host of limitations with the technology. His main concern was how the operators’ two-way radios interfered with the UHF operating frequency of 902-928MHz. Having heard this from other manufacturing organizations who were early adopters I knew right away that he wasn’t aware of how the technology has evolved over the last decade.

Frequency hopping has pretty much eliminated interference with other radio signals. In addition to overcoming radio interference, being able to read and write to tags which are mounted on or near metal and liquids has become a reality with recent advancements. These improvements have led to more flexible read ranges which are a requirement in today’s flexible manufacturing applications.

In a nutshell, the demands of flexible manufacturing have spurred advancements in the process as well as the supporting technology. As it applies to identification of parts or pallets in the manufacturing process, the flexibility of UHF RFID enables manufacturers to gain visibility in their process and provides actionable data that is used to make complex business decisions.

You can learn more about the technology in Balluff’s white paper, What Makes RFID Systems Industrial Strength? or by visiting our website at www.balluff.us

How to Make Plant-based Assets Smarter

 

traceability…add RFID

Pallets, bins, shipping containers, machine tools, hand tools, calibration equipment, neumatic and hydraulic cylinders, etc, etc, etc can all be given some level of intelligence which would make life easier within the plant. Plant-based assets are truly assets because they make our job easier or they allow us to be more efficient. When workers are efficient they are more productive.

Really it all comes down to the questions that we need answered. Here are a few that I have run into in a plant:
Where are all of my pallets and shipping containers?
How much longer can I use this machine tool before the tolerances are out of range?
Has this gauge been calibrated? when? by whom? what are the parameters?
I need to re-order this part or order spare parts and the manufacturer information has been worn off. What is the serial number, when was this part manufactured, what is the location of this asset within the plant?

Ultimately, if your assets can answer a few questions your life becomes a little less complex. All of the answers are simply written to the RFID tag and when you have a question you can read the information from the tag with an RFID reader, sometimes called an interrogator for obvious reasons. It’s that simple.

For more information on RFID as a solution visit our website at www.balluff.us/rfid

“Team” Spells Success In Traceability

If you’ve ever considered a traceability project, like asset tracking for instance, you’ve probably also done some homework into the different technological ways to implement it, from barcoding to using RFID (radio frequency identification). And possibly, while doing that research, you may have seen some presentations or read some articles or whitepapers that have talked about the “team” of stakeholders required to implement these projects, especially if involving the scale required for a facility, or even multiple facilities. Well if you’re a manager reading this and involved with such an endeavor, I’m writing to tell you, take this stakeholder team thing seriously.

In many respects, there are rational fears in getting a stakeholder team together in the early stages of these projects, like the conceptualization stage for example. These fears include: Blowing the project out of proportion; Creating mission creep; Even derailing the project with the others self-interests. Again, all can be valid and even come true to a certain extent, but the reality is that most, if not all of the time, these same stakeholders will also identify the potential opportunities and pitfalls that will either help build the REAL ROI case, and/or help prevent the unseen wall that will prevent success.

These stakeholders can range from operational management (warehouse to manufacturing, depending on the target), IT, financial, quality, and engineering, just to get the ball rolling. You must always be careful of allowing the project to slip into “decision by committee”, so hold the reins and have the project lead firm in hand. But by bringing their input, you stand to satisfy not only your goal, but likely the shared goals they also have, validating and strengthening the real ROI that will likely exist if traceability is the requirement. You will also likely find that along the way you will bring improvements and efficiencies that will benefit the broader organization as a whole.

Once you’ve established the goal and the real ROI, reinforced by the stakeholder’s inputs, that is the time to bring in the technology pieces to see what best will solve that goal. This is many times were the first mistake can be made. The technology suppliers are brought in too soon and the project becomes technology weighted and a direction assumed before a true understanding of the benefits and goals of the organization are understood. Considering a project manager before bringing in the technology piece is also a great way to be ready when this time comes. When you’re ready for this stage, this will typically involve bringing in the vendors, integrators and so forth. And guess what, I’m certain you’ll find this part so much easier and faster to deal with, and with greater clarity. If you have that clear picture from your team when you bring in your solution providers, you will find the choices and their costs more realistic, and have a better picture of the feasibility of what your organization can implement and support.

Not to kill the thought with a sports analogy, but a team united and pulling for the same goal in the same direction will always win the game, versus each player looking out for just their own goals. So get your team together and enjoy the sweet taste of ROI success all around.

For more information on Traceability visit www.balluff.us/traceability.

RFID ROI – Don’t forget the payback!

traceability_1Just recently, while visiting a customer wanting to implement an RFID asset tracking solution, it occurred to me that ROI (return-on-investment) should always be the ultimate goal for most uses of RFID. What brought this to mind? It was because we were discussing technology before understanding what the ultimate ROI goal was. I’m sure you could say this was failure from a sales perspective, but I’m sure at some point you have also found yourself caught up in the technology seeming so promising and exciting in terms of its benefits, that you lost track of why you were there in the first place. Also, many times, the technology stage is where equipment suppliers and/or integrators are brought in.

As with most projects of this nature, they get started because someone says something like “why don’t we do XXX, it will save us money, time, trouble, loss or get us in compliance” or all of the above and likely more. But this same thought can get lost going through execution. RFID projects are no exception. Many successful RFID implementations show it can bring large benefits in short and long-term ROI not just in asset tracking, but manufacturing, warehousing, supply chain and so on. But the implementor must always keep track of the ROI goal and be willing to share this with their internal stakeholders, supplier and integration partners to be sure everything stays on track and technology does not take over for technologies sake.

Unfortunately the ROI is not always calculated the same for applications. Typically ROI can simply be measured in time period until the investment is paid back or the money saved over a given period of time. The most simplistic way of calculating payback or ROI is: Cost of Project (calculated at the beginning) / Annual Cash Revenues (expected savings) = Payback Period. Unfortunately the rub comes in when calculating the detail in the two factors. This can be because the cost of the project is not totally encompassing and/or revenue does not take into consideration factors like interest costs or variations in production, for example. As this will ultimately become the measure of successful projects, really understanding ROI is critical.

Factors in Annual Cash Revenues are factors the implementer needs to understand and grasp as the reasons for undertaking a project. These factors will typically involve several aspects of their business, including savings from greater efficiency, lower cost in storage or inventory, less scrap, higher quality standards (less failure returns), compliance benefits, etc. In fact, this part is difficult to encompass here in this forum. But Cost of Project has some factors I can point out. In the example I raised in the beginning, the customer needed to not only address the read/write equipment and tags (including handheld’s), but also the cost of installing all the possible variations in tag types used during manufacture, common database/software needed, bringing distributors and field service on board, integration providers costs (internal also), training needs, software licensing, start-up and support cost, and so on. So in a manufacturing line, it starts with the new equipment, but must include the PLC/database programming, pallet modifications, station installation, spare parts, start-up and training for example. In warehousing, it might include new equipment, loss of facility equipment like forklifts or warehouse area, facility modification like electrical for example, ERP and WMS implementation or integration, commissioning and training.

One thing to consider toward understanding these factors before implementing a total enterprise solution, whether in warehousing, supply chain or manufacturing is to consider a pilot or test/trail program to determine as many factors as possible and test the results before committing to the full investment of the complete project.

So in your next project, remember to include your stakeholders and partners in your end goals, try to encompass all the factors and don’t forget the payback!

To learn more about RFID visit us at www.balluff.us/rfid.

Customization of RFID tag holders and mounting accessories

Does your RFID application require a customized tag holder? What about special brackets for read/write heads and processors? Don’t have the bandwidth to design the mounting hardware required for your unique application? The Balluff Customizing Group can help! If you are implementing the BIS C, BIS L, BIS M or BIS U RFID systems we will make sure you get the performance your application demands.

For several years the Balluff Customizing Group has been working directly with engineers and maintenance personal to provide design and development services for RFID mechanical accessories. The process is streamlined and very straight forward. Please contact Balluff’s Technical Support Professionals to discuss your RFID application.

Here are a few recent examples of RFID projects in the Customizing Group:

1) RFID Pistol Grip Read/Write Head for BIS M data carriers. The modular design can be used with M12, M18 and M30 tubular read/write heads for logistics tracking of incoming and outgoing shipments.

PistolGrip

2) Keyfob with embedded BIS C data carrier. Individual access codes are programmed to the tags allowing only authorized personnel to enter restricted areas.

Keyfob Keyfob2

3) BIS M read/write data carriers embedded in stainless steel NPT plug for Production Tracking.

DataCarrier

RFID – Keep it Simple!

traceabilityMost of us drive an automobile and use a PC daily. However, very few of us could accurately describe the intricate details of how each of those work. They help us get to work and help us do our work. There is not a need for us to know and understand the algorithm that allows us to compose and save an excel spread sheet. As well, there is not much use in knowing the coefficient of friction when using snow tires compared to standard tires. While those factors play a major role in the tools we use every day, we do not necessarily need to be an expert or scientist to reap the benefits.

Much like a car or PC, RFID systems enable us to be more efficient and productive. Specifically, RFID systems in manufacturing enable full visibility into the process. RFID technology provides actionable data to an organization. Having access to actionable data allows an organization to make critical business decisions with a great degree of confidence. Essentially, it takes the guess work out of the process.

So, how does it work? Very simply, a reader reads the information that has been written to the memory of a tag. Yes, it is that simple.

Check out this webex sponsored by SME. This is a very basic introduction to RFID and how it is used in manufacturing.
https://smeweb.webex.com/smeweb/lsr.php?RCID=c517f86066227766f9e36668c2325aa8

RFID Journal Live…It was all about the “Bolt”

I have to be honest. It didn’t take much to lure me to Orlando following the Arctic winter which haunted pretty much everybody who lives north of Dallas. And, just as I had hoped, the sunshine was in full force and the bonus was Balluff being at center stage thanks to the Databolt and its recent success at GM.

If you missed this year’s edition of RFID Journal Live then you missed an opportunity to hear first-hand about the famous Databolt. Mark Chiappetta, The manufacturing Engineering Superintendent at GM in Tonawanda, explained to conference attendees how technology has improved overall efficiency in the manufacturing process at the plant. Of course, the Databolt was featured in his presentation which was followed by a wave of interest in the Balluff booth. Read the GM Databolt story: http://www.rfidjournal.com/articles/view?11329

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New Guy Jumps in Head First at IMTS

Sandvik Coromant yellow bags are everywhere

Stepping off the escalator, I immediately begin searching for something recognizable to ease the anxiety that has been building over the 5 hour trip from northern Kentucky.  I am having a little trouble dodging and diving through the current of an estimated 100 thousand plus patrons who all seem to be toting a bright yellow messenger bag with their heads slightly bowed and eyes fixed intently on whatever information was just piped into their phone. Am I supposed to have a yellow bag?  I didn’t see it when I picked up my badge.  I know I am not one of them yet, but at least I can look the part, right?

As I continue to stutter step and juke my way through the steady stampede, I catch a glimpse of a vehicle that looks like Mad Max meets the X-games. So I dip off to the left to get a closer look.

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Survey Says: “UHF RFID works”

To give you an idea of where I’m going to take this, let me ask a few simple questions. Would you buy a mattress without laying down on it to see if it’s comfortable? What about a motor cycle or car? Would you buy one without a test drive? In that same vain, would you want your company to invest in UHF (ultra-high frequency) RFID (radio frequency identification) equipment for a RFID project without anything more than specs if you didn’t have to? I would assume the answers are: “of course not”.
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