Traceability in Manufacturing – More than just RFID and Barcode

Traceability is a term that is commonly used in most plants today. Whether it is being used to describe tracking received and shipped goods, tracking valuable assets down to their exact location, or tracking an item through production as it is being built, traceability is usually associated with only two technologies — RFID and/or barcode. While these two technologies are critical in establishing a framework for traceability within the plant, there are other technologies that can help tell the rest of the story.

Utilizing vision along with a data collection technology adds another dimension to traceability by providing physical evidence in the form of an image. While vision cameras have been widely used in manufacturing for a long time, most cameras operate outside of the traceability system. The vision system and tracking system often operate independently. While they both end up sending data to the same place, that data must be transported and processed separately which causes a major increase in network traffic.

Datamatrixlesen_Platine

Current vision technology allows images to be “stamped” with the information from the barcode or RFID tag. The image becomes redundant traceability by providing visual proof that everything happened correctly in the build process. In addition, instead of sending image files over the network they are sent through a separate channel to a server that contains all the process data from the tag and has the images associated with it. This frees up the production network and provides visual proof that the finished product is what we wanted it to be.

Used separately, the three technologies mentioned above provide actionable data which allows manufacturers to make important decisions.  Used together, they tell a complete story and provide visual evidence of every step along the way. This allows manufacturers to make more informed decisions based on the whole story not just part of it.

IO-Link Makes Improving OEE in Format Change Easier than Ever

One of the primary applications in Packaging, Food & Beverage that is a huge area for improving overall equipment efficiency (OEE) is format change.  Buyers respond well to specialized or individualized packaging, meaning manufacturers need to find ways to implement those format changes and machine builders must make those flexible machines available.

IO-Link Makes Improving OEE in Format Change Easier than Ever_2

Today, thanks to IO-Link devices, including master blocks, hubs and linear position sensors, improving OEE on format change is more possible today than ever before. IO-Link offers capabilities that make it ideal for format change. It communicates:

  • Process data (control, cyclical communication of process status)
  • Parameter data (configuration, messaging data with configuration information)
  • Event data (diagnostics, communication from device to master including diagnostics/errors)

What is format change and how does it impact OEE?

Format change is the physical adjustments necessary to make to a machine when the product is altered in some way.  It could be a change in carton size, package size, package design, case size or a number of other modifications to the product or packaging.  The time to adjust the machine itself or the sensors on the machine can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an entire eight- hour shift.

Types of format changes to consider when seeking to improve your OEE:

Guided format change is when the operator is assisted or guided in making the change.  For example, having to move or slide a guide rail into a new position.  IO-Link linear position sensors can help guide the operator, so the position is exact every time. This reduces time by eliminating the need to go back and look at an HMI or cheat sheet to determine if everything is in the right position.

Change parts is when a part needs to be swapped out on the machine for the next production run.  An example of this is when the bag size on a bagger or vertical form fill and seal (VFFS) machine changes and the forming tube needs to be changed.  Having an RFID tag on the forming tube and a RFID reader on the machine allows for easy verification that the correct forming tube was put on the machine and only takes seconds.

Color Change is when the color of a pouch, package or container changes for the next production run like when a yogurt pouch changes color or design while the size and shape remain the same as previous production runs. Smart color photo electric sensors can change the parameters on the photo eye to detect the correct color of the new pouch occurs instantly upon changing the recipe on the machine.

Developing semi-automated or fully automated solutions can improve OEE in regard to format change by helping reduce the time needed to make the change and providing consistent and accurate positioning with the ability to automatically change parameters in the sensor.

Being smart, easy and universal, IO-Link helps simplify format change and provides the ability to change sensor parameters quickly and easily.

IO-Link Makes Improving OEE in Format Change Easier than Ever_1

What to Ask Before You Build an RFID System to Meet Your Traceability Needs

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.

RFID: Using Actionable Data to Make Critical Decisions

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.

Not an RFID expert? It’s ok. Start with a quick overview.

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

Why IO-Link is the Best Suited Technology for Smart Manufacturing

While fieldbus solutions utilize sensors and devices with networking ability, they come with limitations. IO-Link provides one standard device level communication that is smart in nature and network independent. That enables interoperability throughout the controls pyramid, making it the most suitable choice for smart manufacturing.

IO-Link offers a cost effective solution to the problems. Here is how:

  • IO-Link uses data communication rather than signal communication. That means the communication is digital with 24V signal with high resistance to the electrical noise signals.
  • IO-Link offers three different communication modes: Process communication, Diagnostic communication (also known as configuration or parameter communication), and Events.
    • Process communication offers the measurement data for which the device or sensor is primarily selected. This communication is cyclical and continuous in nature similar to discrete I/O or analog communication.
    • Diagnostic communication is a messaging (acyclic) communication that is used to set up configuration parameters, receive error codes and diagnostic messages.
    • Event communication is also acyclic in nature and is how the device informs the controller about some significant event that the sensor or that device experienced.
  • IO-Link is point-to-point communication, so the devices communicate to the IO-Link master module, which acts as a gateway to the fieldbus or network systems or even standard TCP/IP communication system. So, depending on the field-bus/network used, the IO-Link master may change but all the IO-Link devices enjoy the freedom from the choice of network. Power is part of the IO-Link communication, so it does not require separate power port/drop on the devices.
  • Every open IO-Link master port offers expansion possibilities for future integration. For example, you could host an IO-Link RFID device or a barcode reader for machine access control as a part of a traceability improvement program.

For more information, visit www.balluff.com/io-link.

Traceability of production material with RFID

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.

Transmission of incoming goods data on the transponder

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

To learn more about RFID technology, visit www.balluff.com.

Five things to consider before selecting an RFID system

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:

  1. Throughput

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.

  1. Read/Write Range

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.

  1. Form factor

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.

  1. Communication Protocol

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?

  1. Environment

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!

To learn more about RFID solutions visit www.balluff.com.

The Evolution of RFID in Metalworking

RFID – A key technology in modern production

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.

Cutting tool in tool taper with RFID chip

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.

Workpiece tracking with RFID on pallet system

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.

RFID processor for both tool identification and workpiece tracking

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.

Evergreen – more modern than ever: RFID Tool ID in Metalworking

Learn more about the Evolution of RFID in Metalworking from true experts at www.balluff.com  or at  Balluff events worldwide

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.

Flexibility Through Automated Format Changes on Packaging Machines

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

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.

Fast format changes in secondary packaging.png
Fast format changes in secondary packaging

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

BML SL1, IO-Link

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.

For more information read our previous blog post “Boost Size-Change Efficiency with IO-Link Magnetic Encoders and Visualization”.

Changeable part detection

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.

Simple visualization enables expert free operation

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.

Summary

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
  • Simple visualization for the operator

To learn more about format change visit www.balluff.com.