RFID in the Manufacturing Process: A Must-Have for Continuous Improvement

There is quite an abundance of continuous improvement methodologies implemented in manufacturing processes around the globe. Whether it’s Lean, Six Sigma, Kaizen, etc., there is one thing that all of these methodologies have in common, they all require actionable data in order to make an improvement.  So, the question becomes: How do I get my hands on actionable data?

All data begins its life as raw data, which has to be manipulated to produce actionable data. Fortunately, there are devices that help automate this process. Automatic data collection (ADC), which includes barcode and RFID technology, provides visibility into the process. RFID has evolved to become the more advanced method of data collection because it doesn’t require a centralized database to store the data like barcode technology. RFID stores the data directly on the product or pallet in the process, which allows for much more in-depth data collection.

rfid

RFID’s greatest impact on the process tends to be improving overall quality and efficiency. For example, Company X is creating widgets and there are thirty-five work cells required to make a widget. Between every work cell there is a quality check with a vision system that looks for imperfections created in the prior station. When a quality issue is identified, it is automatically written to the tag.  In the following work cell the RFID tag is read as soon as it enters the station. This is where the raw data becomes actionable data. As soon as a quality issue has been identified, someone or something will need to take action. At this point the data becomes actionable because it has a detailed story to tell. While the error code written to the tag might just be a “10”, the real story is: Between cells five and six the system found a widget was non-conforming. The action that can be taken now is much more focused. The process at cell five can be studied and fixed immediately, opposed to waiting until an entire batch of widgets are manufactured with a quality issue.

Ultimately, flawless execution is what brings success to organizations.  However, in order to execute with efficiency and precision the company must first have access to not only data, but actionable data. Actionable data is derived from the raw data that RFID systems automatically collect.

Learn more about RFID technology at www.balluff.com.

 

Rise of the Robots – 3 Ways to Be On Their Team

While originally a mixed reviewed 1994 console video game, the recently published report by The Boston Consulting Group titled “The Rise of Robotics”  really made me realize how important it is that we embrace robotics in our manufacturing processes.  And I strongly agree with this statement: “Because robots can sharply improve productivity and offset regional differences in labor costs and availability, they’ll likely have a major impact on the competitiveness of companies and countries alike.”  They studied the growth of the usage of robots in personal, commercial, military and industrial use and the numbers were quite powerful.  Of interest to me is the rise in industrial robotics; doubling in 5 years from $5.8b to $11.0b in 2015.  And the growth is expected to more than double again by 2025 to $24.4b in the industrial space.

What this means for manufacturers, machine builders and component suppliers is we need to make sure our people are trained to support this growth and that we we have strong peripheral technologies to support robots as they grow and expand.  Even today there are some great technologies available in sensors and controls that make robotic integration easier for manufacturing companies.

So here are the three ways to make sure you are your robot’s ally.

  1. Maximize Their Payload!

    No one wants to be treated like they can’t help… especially your robots, they want you to utilize them and feel appreciated.  For most robotics right now, payload size & payload weight is a limiting factor.  Mini sensing products with precision switch points, small form factors and low mass allow for the design of low weight, compact payloads without limiting the functionality or speed of the robot.

  2. Keep them Working!

    A working robot is a happy robot.  By adding flexible tooling or quick-change tooling to the end-effector of a robot you can have one arm perform multiple functions and keep idle arms to a minimum, increasing their value and “happiness.”  Multiple products are out there to allow for this, however there is a technology that allows for sensor connections through inductive coupling that dramatically decreases repair issues and downtime due to tool changer pins.

  3. Remove the Chains!  

    What’s the deal with cable dress packs… they look like really bad suspenders sometimes… you see them, you don’t like how they look, but you need it to keep your pants on… I guarantee that robots don’t like these things either… And with all that flexing something in there will fail regularly.  There are some great technologies to reduce the sensor cables running on the arm and add flexibility and they are supported by the open standard IO-Link (discussed in other posts here!).

So as you integrate robots more and more into the manufacturing we are doing, please start thinking how to align yourself as a robot’s ally.  Because I know I want to be on this guy’s team…

WOW! It’s a bolt!?

Our Databolt never fails to grab the attention of everyone who has ever ventured to take a look in my sample case. In a kit of a hundred plus RFID tags which vary in frequency and form factor, it’s the one that draws the most questions, by far. Without a doubt, it is unique, it is rugged, and it is a pretty ingenious method of attaching an RFID tag to an item that needs to be identified and tracked through a process.  However, I couldn’t help but think…it’s just a bolt.

If you have ever been to a manufacturing trade show then you know that the “wow factor” is pretty common in this industry. From Blackjack dealing robots to machines the size of a typical suburban home, you must admit there is some impressive stuff out there.

Never did I consider the Databolt a “wow” product until a recent issue of Popular Mechanics featured the Balluff Databolt in an article regarding RFID traceability at GM’s engine plant in Tonawanda, NY. After reading the article I realized that wow can mean different things. So when I see a friend I haven’t seen for fifteen years and the first thing they say is wow. Is it wow, I haven’t seen you for a long time? Or wow, you’ve gained sixty pounds and are losing your hair? I guess it is to be left open for interpretation.

My vanity aside, it is now pretty clear that when the Databolt produces a wow, it is not necessarily a wow, this is the coolest piece of technology I have ever seen. More accurately, it is most likely wow, this simple little bolt can save my company millions by:

  • Creating visibility into the production process
  • Helping to comply with regulatory and quality standards
  • Proactively managing product recalls with near-real-time corrective action
  • Improving customer safety and satisfaction
  • Reducing the cost of nonconformance

So, that is my take on what people really mean when they say “wow” in regards to the Databolt. Check out the article and determine for yourself how wow should be interpreted.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/news/industry/this-bolt-is-the-key-to-gms-high-tech-assembly-line-16324897

My DeviceNet System is Giving Me Heartburn

devicenet analyzerDuring the recent economic downturn, businesses have lost scores of experienced, trained personnel who were very familiar with (among other things) monitoring the health of their DeviceNet System and who may have been responsible for keeping things “up and running”.  Now that business is ramping back up, companies are running lean and we’re all doing “more with less” of everything (including people), the need for rapidly diagnosing issues on a DeviceNet system has increased.  These reasons are exactly why the DeviceNet Analyzer was developed.

The analyzer is a collection of components used for analysis, monitoring and maintaining DeviceNet systems without having to call a third-party to conduct these procedures. The ROI is amazingly fast after technicians have been trained on the use of this powerful tool for checking DeviceNet and CAN bus installations:

  •  Analyze and track down telegrams with poor signal quality. Check for causes of faults, like missing bus terminations (or too many bus terminations), faulty bus drivers, or trunk and drop lines that are too long.
  • Physical cable troubleshooting is accomplished on a “wire test” function that detects the location of cable breaks and short circuits.  “Weak Spots” like incorrect cable types, lengths, and faulty plugs are also located.
  • Monitor…comparisons can be made at regular or continuous intervals via an online function.  Gradual degradation of system quality can be seen and proactive preventative maintenance can in turn be enacted.

If you have DeviceNet “Heartburn”…there is an Antacid! For more information on the DeviceNet Analyzer, click here or watch the video below.

Tracking low-cost assets with RFID tags…Is it worth it?

First, a lesson in Lexicography

Lexi-what!? Don’t be alarmed. This blog is not as boring as it sounds, especially if you are involved in manufacturing. Lexicography is the art of compiling, writing and editing dictionaries. Sounds like a ton of fun, but let’s move quickly to the point to prevent nausea or inducing sleep. Value, according to dictionary.com when used as a noun, is defined as relative worth, merit, or importance. Notice, the lexicographer mentions nothing about cost.

Tracking valuable assets using RFID within the walls of a plant has become common practice for many organizations. Tracking fork trucks, specialized equipment, machinery and other high cost items are a no-brainer. However, experienced users of RFID technology have realized that it is important to know the location of a high cost asset, but it is paramount to know the location of a high value item.

Defining the VALUE of assets (tools, measurement and calibration devices, specialized machines etc.) can be a tricky game. Conversely, it is not difficult to record the cost of an asset on a balance sheet. A tool which has a cost of $50 doesn’t have a VALUE of $50.

Do you really know what your assets are worth? Is your $50 tool worth hundreds, thousands, or even millions? How is that possible? This is fairly straight forward. If that tool is an integral part in the operation of the manufacturing line then every minute that tool is “missing” is a minute of downtime. How much does a minute of downtime cost your company? How much does an hour of downtime cost your company? Does this tool help your final product conform to standards? What is the cost of nonconformance? What are the financial implications of a product recall? These questions need to be addressed when determining whether or not you should track your assets.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Sensors Must Withstand Punishing Applications

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In today’s competitive manufacturing environment, the name of the game is increased throughput.  Unprecedented global competition means that industrial manufacturing machinery must be able to run better (faster, longer, hotter, etc.) and more reliably than ever before.

Continue reading “Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Sensors Must Withstand Punishing Applications”