RFID Minimizes Errors, Downtime During Format Change

Today’s consumer packaged goods (CPG) market is driving the need for greater agility and flexibility in packaging machinery. Shorter, more customized runs create more frequent machine changeover. Consequently, reducing planned and unplanned downtime at changeover is one of the key challenges CPG companies are working to improve.

In an earlier post, I discussed operator guided changeover for reducing time and errors associated with parts that must be repositioned during format change.

In this post, I will discuss how machine builders and end users are realizing the benefits of automated identification and validation of mechanical change parts.

In certain machines, there are parts that must be changed as part of a format change procedure. For example, cartoning machines could have 20-30 change parts that must be removed and replaced during this procedure.

This can be a time consuming and error-prone process. Operators can forget to change a part or install the wrong part, which causes downtime during the startup process while the error is located and corrected. In the worst scenarios, machines can crash if incorrect parts are left in the machine causing machine damage and significant additional downtime.

To prevent these mistakes, CPG companies have embraced RFID as a way to identify change parts and validate that the correct parts have been installed in the machine prior to startup. By doing so, these companies have reduced downtime that can be caused by mistakes. It has also helped them train new operators on changeover procedures as the risk of making a mistake is significantly reduced.

Selecting the correct system

When looking to add RFID for change part validation, the number of change parts that need to be identified and validated is a key consideration. RFID operating on the 13.56 MHz (HF) frequency has proven to be very reliable in these applications. The read range between a read head and tag is virtually guaranteed in a proper installation. However, a read head can read only a single tag, so an installation could need a high number of read heads on a machine with a lot of change parts.

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It is also possible to use the 900 MHz (UHF) frequency for change part ID. This allows a single head to read multiple tags at once. This can be more challenging to implement, as UHF is more susceptible to environmental factors when determining read range and guaranteeing consistent readability. With testing and planning, UHF has been successfully and reliably implemented on packaging machines.

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Available mounting space and environmental conditions should also be taken into consideration when selecting the correct devices. RFID readers and tags with enhanced IP ratings are available for washdown harsh environmental conditions. Additionally, there are a wide range of RFID read head and tag form factors and sizes to accommodate different sized machines and change parts.

 

 

Manufacturers Track Goods, Reduce Errors, Decrease Workload with RFID

More and more, retailer sellers are starting to require that manufacturers place RFID tags on their products before they leave the production facility and are shipped to those retail locations. From high-end electronics all the way down to socks and underwear are being tagged.

These tags are normally supplied by the retailer or through a contracted third party. Typically disposable UHF paper tags, they are only printed with a TID number and a unique EPC that may or may not correspond to the UPC and barcode that was used in the past. Most cases I have seen require that the UPC and a barcode be printed on these RFID tags so there is information available to the human eye and a barcode scanner when used.

While this is being asked for by the retailers, manufacturers can use these tags to their own advantage to track what products are going out to their shipping departments and in what quantities. This eliminates human error in the tracking process, something that has been a problem in the past, while also reducing workload as boxes of finished goods no longer must be opened, counted and inspected for accuracy.

A well-designed RFID portal for these items to pass through can scan for quantities and variances in types of items in boxes as they pass through the portal. Boxes that do not pass the scan criteria are then directed off to another area for rework and reevaluation. Using human inspection for just the boxes that do not pass the RFID scan greatly reduces the labor effort and expedites the shipping process.

I recently assisted with a manufacturer in the garment industry who was having to tag his garments for a major retailer with RFID tags that had the UPC and a barcode printed on them. The tags were supplied through the retailer and the EPCs on the tags were quite different then the UPC numbers printed on them.

The manufacturer wanted to know how many garments of each type were in each box. Testing showed that this could be done by creating a check point on his conveyor system and placing UHF RFID antennas in appropriate locations to ensure that all the garments in the box were detected and identified.

In this case, the manufacturer wanted was a simple stand-alone system that would display a count of different types of garments. An operator reviewed the results on a display and decided based on the results whether to accept the box and let the conveyor forward it to shipping or reject it and divert it to another conveyor line for inspection and adjustment.

While this system proved to be relatively simple and inexpensive, it satisfied the desires of the manufacturer. It is, however, possible to connect an RFID inspection station to a manufacturing information system that would know what to expect in each box and could automatically accept or reject boxes based on the results of the scans without human intervention and/or human error.

Palletized Automation with Inductive Coupling

RFID is an excellent way to track material on a pallet through a warehouse. A data tag is placed on the pallet and is read by a read/write head when it comes in range. Commonly used to identify when the pallet goes through the different stages of its scheduled process, RFID provides an easy way to know where material is throughout a process and learn how long it takes for product to go through each stage. But what if you need I/O on the pallet itself or an interchangeable end-of-arm tool?

Inductive Coupling

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Inductive coupling delivers reliable transmission of data without contact. It is the same technology used to charge a cell phone wirelessly. There is a base and a remote, and when they are aligned within a certain distance, power and signal can be transferred between them as if it was a standard wire connection.

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When a robot is changing end-of-arm tooling, inductive couplers can be used to power the end of arm tool without the worry of the maintenance that comes with a physical connection wearing out over time.

For another example of how inductive couplers can be used in a process like this, let’s say your process requires a robot to place parts on a metal product and weld them together. You want I/O on the pallet to tell the robot that the parts are in the right place before it welds them to the product. This requires the sensors to be powered on the pallet while also communicating back to the robot. Inductive couplers are a great solution because by communicating over an air gap, they do not need to be connected and disconnected when the pallet arrives or leaves the station. When the pallet comes into the station, the base and remote align, and all the I/O on the pallet is powered and can communicate to the robot so it can perform the task.

Additionally, Inductive couplers can act as a unique identifier, much like an RFID system. For example,  when a pallet filled with product A comes within range of the robot, the base and remote align telling the robot to perform action A. Conversely, when a pallet loaded with product B comes into range, the robot communicates with the pallet and knows to perform a different task. This allows multiple products to go down the same line without as much changeover, thereby reducing errors and downtime.

Not All RFID is Created Equal: Is Yours Built for an Industrial Environment?

The retail environments where products are sold look nothing like the industrial environments where they are produced (think of the difference between a new car dealership and an automotive manufacturing plant). Yet the same RFID products developed for retail stores and their supply chain operations are still marketed to manufacturers for production operations. These products may work fine in warehouses, but that does not necessarily qualify them as industrial grade.

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So what are the differences between retail and industrial RFID?

Production environments often require a level of ruggedness, performance, and connectivity that only purpose-built industrial equipment can reliably satisfy. For example, general-purpose RFID equipment may have the physical Ethernet port needed to connect to a PC or server, but will not support EtherNet/IP, Profinet or other industrial protocols that run on PLCs and other industrial automation control equipment. Many retail grade readers need to be supported with an additional protocol conversion, which can require external hardware and slow system performance, and adds to implementation time, difficulty, and expense.

When evaluating RFID equipment, it is essential to make the distinction between what is possible for use in the environment and what is optimal and, therefore, more reliable. There are three fundamental qualities to consider that can determine if RFID systems will perform reliably in demanding production environments:

  • Will the RFID system integrate seamlessly with industrial control systems?
  • Will it provide the reliability and speed that production and their information systems tied in require?
  • Can it maintain uptime and performance long term – will it last on the production line?

RFID is often marketed as a “solution,” however in manufacturing operations, it is almost always used as a supporting technology to provide data and visibility to the MES, ERP, e-Kanban, robotics, asset tracking, material handling, quality control and other systems that run in production facilities. Failure to accurately provide data to these systems at the reliability and speed levels they require eliminates the value of using RFID.

The physical environments in industrial and supply chain settings cause RFID technology to perform differently. Tag density can be a consideration for industrial RFID users like retail, but an industrial environment has much more challenging and powerful potential interference sources, for example, the presence of metal found in most industrial products and environments.

When determining whether RFID products are suitable for a specific environment, it is important to look beyond published marketing hype and misleading specifications. Consider the design and construction of the product and how it could be affected by various work processes. Whenever possible, you should test the products where they will be used rather than in a lab or demonstration area, because the actual work location has interference and environmental conditions that may be overlooked and impossible to duplicate elsewhere.

The key attributes that differentiate industrial RFID equipment from supply chain-oriented alternatives include:

  • Native support for industrial protocols;
  • High tag read reliability and the ability to continuously operate at speeds that won’t slow production systems;
  • Durable housing with secure connectors with IP65 or better rating and relevant certifications for shock, vibration and temperature resistance;
  • The ability to support multiple RFID technologies and supporting devices as needed, including sensors, PLCs, IO-Link, and other industrial automation equipment.

Compromising on any of these criteria will likely result in unnecessary implementation time, support, and replacement costs and increase the risk for system failure.

RFID for Improved Operator Accountability

One of the most fascinating parts of my job is making site visits to manufacturing plants across the country. Getting a first-hand look at how things are made in a modern manufacturing facility is nothing short of amazing. Robots whirling, automatic guided vehicles (AGV’s) navigating the floor, overhead cranes and gantries lifting tons of material over-head, flames shooting from ovens, and metal chips flying create an exciting, but sometimes dangerous, work environment. To some people this may seem like a good reason to avoid these places, but if you are fitted with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) the chances for injury are minimal.

The safety of every human in the plant is the top priority.  This is why there are requirements to wear PPE that is suitable for the environment and the hazards within. The challenge is confirming that everyone is aware of the required equipment, and that they indeed are wearing that equipment.

This can be accomplished with a simple RFID kiosk system. When an operator scans their ID they are asked a series of questions to ensure they are wearing the correct PPE. If the operator confirms they are wearing all the required gear, they can begin work in the area they are assigned. If not, a supervisor will be notified so the correct equipment can be obtained. This method can serve as a daily reminder for what needs to be worn while holding the operator accountable.

Ultimately, it is up to the plant and occupational safety organizations to define what needs to be worn and where it should be worn, but it is the responsibility of the operator to actually wear it. The same system can be used for vendors, visitors or anyone else who ventures out on the plant floor.

Using RFID to Create Transparency in Production

To meet today’s requirements for fast delivery and infinite flexibility, many productions are already set up as flow production with work steps distributed to workstations. As a result, products can be individually adapted in order to optimally meet customer requirements.

The basic prerequisite for this is to continuously know where a product is in the process. Additionally, information should be available about the next workstation and the subsequent work step. Without technical assistance, the required information can only be generated by the employee with much effort. Additionally, you run the risk of production steps being confused and time delays occurring in the production process. One solution to meet the requirements with minimum effort and maximum reliability is to install automated product recognition by using an RFID system.

 
Automated product recognition with an RFID system

To install an RFID system one important prerequisite must be fulfilled. Each product that is planned to be tracked needs a compatible RFID data carrier. This enables an individual connection between the order number and the product, which is then stored in a database.

During the product creation, the stored connection is called up multiple times. Each time it is supplemented by further information. In this way product traceability can be ensured. The connection is initiated by an antenna of the RFID system, which recognizes the data carrier and its ID. The resulting data shows which product is at the workplace, the time stamp, the place of recognition and the order number, all of which are noted in the database.

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Communication between RFID system, database and production employee

 

Reduction of error rate and increase of efficiency in the production

In addition to ensuring traceability, the installation of an RFID system can also significantly reduce the failure rate in the production. The connection to the database allows information to move in two ways. On one hand additional information is provided, while on the other further information is created that can be processed by other systems.

The storage of the time stamp enables an analysis of the duration of each work step. This makes the identification of potential ways to improve in the production possible. If this analysis and the implementation of the system is done consequently, the efficiency in the production can be improved continuously.

 

Tracking and Traceability in Mobility: A Step Towards IIoT

In today’s highly competitive automotive environment, it is becoming increasingly important for companies to drive out operating costs in order to ensure their plants maintain a healthy operating profit.

Improved operational efficiency in manufacturing is a goal of numerous measures. For example, in Tier 1 automotive parts manufacturing it is common place to have equipment that is designed to run numerous assemblies through one piece of capital equipment (Flexible Manufacturing). In order to accommodate multiple assemblies, different tooling is designed to be placed in this capital equipment. This reduces required plant floor real-estate and the costs normally required for unidimensional manufacturing equipment. However, with this flexibility new risks are introduced, such as running the machine with incorrect tooling which can cause increased scrap levels, incorrect assembly of parts and/or destruction/damage of expensive tooling, expedited freight, outsourcing costs, increased manpower, sorting and rework costs, and more.

Having operators manually enter recipes or tooling change information introduces the Human Error of Probability (HEP).  “The typical failure rates in businesses using common work practices range from 10 to 30 errors per hundred opportunities. The best performance possible in well managed workplaces using normal quality management methods are failure rates of 5 to 10 in every hundred opportunities.” (Sondalini)

Knowing the frequency of product change-over rates, you can quickly calculate the costs of these potential errors. One means of addressing this issue is to create Smart Tooling whereby RFID tags are affixed on the tooling and read/write antennas are mounted on the machinery and integrated into the control architecture of the capital equipment. The door to a scalable solution has now been opened in which each tool is assigned a unique ID or “license plate” identifying that specific tooling. Through proper integration of the capital equipment, the plant can now identify what tooling is in place at which OP station and may only run if the correct tooling is confirmed in place. In addition, one can then move toward predictive maintenance by placing process data onto the tag itself such as run time, parts produced, and tooling rework data. Collection and monitoring of this data moves the plant towards IIoT and predictive maintenance capabilities to inform key personnel when tooling is near end of life or re-work requirement thus contributing to improved OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) rates.

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

*Source: Mike Sondalini, Managing Director, Lifetime Reliability Solutions, Article: Unearth the answers and solve the causes of human error in your company by understanding the hidden truths in human error rate tables

Why RFID is the VIP of 2019

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.

Content verification

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.

 

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.

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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.

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