Inspection, Detection and Documentation – The Trifecta of Work in Process

As the rolling hills of the Bluegrass state turn from frost covered gold of winter to sun splashed green of spring, most Kentuckians are gearing up for “the most exciting two minutes in sports”, otherwise known as The Kentucky Derby. While some fans are interested in the glitz and glamour of the event, the real supporters of the sport, the bettors, are seeking out a big payday. A specific type of wager called a Trifecta, a bet that requires picking the first three finishers in the correct order, traditionally yields thousands, if not tens of thousands, of dollars in reward. This is no easy feat.  It is difficult to pick one horse, let alone three to finish at the top. So while the bettors are seeking out their big payday with a trifecta, the stakeholders in manufacturing organizations around the globe are utilizing the trifecta to ensure their customers are getting quality products. However, the trifecta of work in process is valued in millions of dollars.

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Work in process, or “WIP”, is an application within manufacturing where the product is tracked from the beginning of the process to the end. The overall goal of tracking the product from start to finish is, among other things, quality assurance. In turn, ensuring the product is of good quality creates loyal customers, prevents product recalls, and satisfies regulations. In a highly competitive manufacturing environment, not being able to ensure quality can be a death sentence for any organization. This is where the trifecta comes back into play. The three processes listed below, when used effectively together, ensure overall product quality and eliminate costly mistakes in manufacturing.

  1. Inspection – Typically executed withWorkinProcess Trifecta a vision system. Just like it sounds, the product is inspected for any irregularities or deviation from “perfect”.
  2. Detection – This is a result of the inspection. If an error is detected action must then be taken to correct it before it is sent to the next station or in some cases the product goes directly to scrap to prevent the investment of any additional resources.
  3. Documentation – Typically executed with RFID technology. The results of the inspection and detection process are written to the RFID tag. Accessing that data at a later time may be necessary to isolate specific component recalls or to prove regulatory compliance.

Whether playing the ponies or manufacturing the next best widget, the trifecta is a necessity in both industries. Utilizing a time tested system of vision and RFID technology has proven effective for quality assurance in manufacturing, but a reliable system for winning the trifecta in the derby is still a work in process.

To learn more about work in process, visit www.balluff.com.

For RFID Applications, Think Throughput

A common request from many engineers I talk to is the need for a “faster” RFID read/write system.  Usually, this is due to the fact they are increasing their overall line speed and decreasing the amount of time that a work in process item dwells in one station.  This is a good thing.  We all want to make more widgets faster. However, in addition to increasing the number of widgets that come off the production line and the rate at which they come off, the demand for quality has increased significantly. This is also a good thing. This certainly leads to a win-win between the manufacturer and the consumer. As the demand for quality increases so does the amount of data. Statistical process control, lineage data, build data, etc. are represented by large amounts of data. So the tag has to have enough memory and the reader has to have enough speed to keep up with the process. The amount of data transferred over a period of time is called throughput.

In RFID readers/writers, throughput is usually represented as bytes or kilobytes of data per second or milliseconds. The read/write speeds of all RFID systems are related to the amount of data being read or written to the tag. So, if high throughput is a requirement, a feature to look for in the reader/writer is the buffer size. I don’t want to get too deep into the technical weeds of data transfer, bit rates, baud rates, etc. so I will explain it from a marketing guy’s perspective. Think of an RFID system as a data delivery system. In this delivery system an imaginary tractor-trailer is what delivers the data from the reader to the tag and the tag to the reader. The trailer represents the aforementioned buffer.  The trailer or buffer can hold a specified amount of data, 32Bytes, 64Bytes and so on. This is determined by the manufacturer of the system. Semi trucks_blogTherefore, there may be two systems that operate at the same speed, but have a totally different throughput.  Back to the tractor-trailer example, there can be two semi’s going down the road at the same speed but one has a trailer that is half the size of the other and can only carry half as much product(data in this case). So in order to transfer the same amount of data, the half-size trailer has to make two trips (cycles) whereas the larger trailer makes only one. In a case where the amount of data that needs to be transferred is multiple thousands of bytes or kilobytes, that buffer size becomes more important because the more cycles or trips that have to be completed the slower the transfer.

Ultimately, speed is a relative term in the world of moving data from one point to another. In order to future-proof your production line, look a little deeper into the features of the system to make sure you’re investing in technology that is not only fast, but fast and moves a lot of data.

For more information, visit www.balluff.com.

 

Make sure your RFID system is future-proof by answering 3 questions

With the recent widespread adoption of RFID technology in manufacturing plants I have encountered quite a number of customers who feel like they have been “trapped” by the technology. The most common issue is their current system cannot handle the increase in the requirements of the production line. In a nutshell, their system isn’t scalable.

Dealing with these issues after the fact is a nightmare that no plant manager wants to be a part of. Can you imagine installing an entire data collection system then having to remove it and replace it with a more capable system in 3 years or even less? It’s actually a pretty common problem in the world of technology. However an RFID system should be viable for much longer if a few simple questions can be answered up front.

  1. Is decreasing production time an objective of your organization? I assume the answer to this is yes in most cases. Decreasing production time means an increase in line speed which means the RFID system has to be able to read and write faster. Some RFID systems are designed for reading a tag while the part is static or sitting in front of the reader for a period of time, while others are designed for reading a tag dynamically as it flies by the read head. Taking the time to determine if a system is capable of reading on the fly is worth the extra research time to avoid the “trap”.
  2. Will you use more data in the future than you do today? Basically, will you need to write more data to the tag as the line matures? That seems like another no-brainer considering the huge demand for data storage in other realms of our life. Countless times I have heard customers say all they want to write to the tag is a four digit identifier and a year later they want to add quality information, lineage data, build data, process data and so on to the tag. Couple that with an increase in line speed and now you are talking about some serious throughput. It is imperative to make sure the tag has the necessary capacity and the reader has the necessary cycle time to handle the increase in demand for throughput.
  3. Will you ever expand the line to have more read/write stations? This is a big one especially in quality intensive applications where multiple inspections throughout the process are required. The critical error here is lack of foresight into the networking capabilities of the system. Whether the processor is capable of handling multiple readers or it is just a single read point solution it is important to know how the system is expanded. Some systems are expanded by daisy chaining processors which is less complicated than adding additional switching equipment to expand the system.

None of us are capable of telling the future, but we can put a pretty good plan together to accommodate growth. Keep it simple and ask as many questions as you can dream up before you pull the trigger. Just make sure the three questions above are addressed and the technology trap can be avoided.

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

RFID – It’s Not a Matter of Privacy

With the recent boom in RFID implementations by organizations all over the globe, there is a buzz in the on-line communities and social networking sites about how the technology is an attempt to invade the privacy of every “Jane and Joe” on the planet. I have to admit when I first started to come across these public concerns I just assumed this was the vocal minority being overly paranoid. However, as the technology has progressed into many different areas of our life it has become pretty clear that little has been done to address the concerns of the public. So, I am going to address a few of those concerns here.

Recently, the GM plant in Tonawanda, NY incorporated RFID into their engine production process. They simply attach a Balluff Databolt (a specialized bolt with an RFID tag embedded in it) to every engine before it goes onto the assembly line. As with many manufacturing processes the engine will go to many different stations to be assembled and tested. At each of these stations data from the previous station is read and new data is written to the tag to ensure everything in the process went as planned. When the engine is completed the information written on the tag is uploaded to GM’s database and stored. In addition, the tag is removed, its memory erased and placed on another engine that goes through the same process. The tag DOES NOT stay with the engine. And, even if it did there would be no way to secretly track your vehicle by “pinging” this tag.

The GM example is just one of tens of thousands of applications where RFID is used to ensure quality, manage the production process, and manage product recalls in the manufacturing world. So, what about other applications like in retail where clothing is tracked via RFID or the livestock or pet industry where a small RFID tag is implanted in the animal?

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