UHF RFID: Driving Efficiency in Automotive Production

Manufactured in batch size 1, bumper to bumper on modular production lines, with the support of collaborative robots –  this is the reality in modern automotive production. Without transparent and continuous processes, production would come to a standstill. Therefore, it is important to have reliable technology in use. For many car manufacturers, UHF RFID is not only used to control manufacturing within a plant but recently more and more also to track new vehicles in the finishing and even shipping processes. And many manufacturers have already started using UHF across production plants and even across companies with their suppliers because it makes just-in-time and just-in-sequence production a lot easier. This blog post gives an insight into why UHF could be the technology of the future for automotive production.

What is UHF?

UHF stands for ultra-high frequency and is the frequency band of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) from 300 MHz to 3 GHz. UHF with the EPC global Gen2 UHF standard typically in the frequency range of 860 – 960 MHz, with regional differences. Besides UHF other popular RFID frequency bands used in production are LF (low frequency) – operating typically at 125 kHz – and HF (high frequency) – operating typically at 13.56 MHz worldwide. LF is used mainly for Tool ID and HF for ticketing, payment, and production and access control.

UHF RFID used to ensure the proper headrest is placed on automotive seats.
An RFID sensor scans a tag on a car headset during production

UHF systems have the longest read range with up to a few meters and a faster data transfer rate than LF or HF. Therefore, it’s used in a wide variety of applications and the fastest growing segment of the RFID market. Tracking goods or car parts in the supply chain, inventorying assets, and authenticating car parts are just some examples for the automotive industry.

And this is how it works: A UHF reader emits a signal and energy to its environment via an antenna. If a UHF data carrier can be activated by this energy, a data exchange can take place. The data carrier or tag backscatters the reader signal and modulates it according to its specific data content.

UHF vs. Optical systems

Intelligent data generated by intelligent RFID solutions is a crucial part of efficient and transparent processes. To achieve this, the use of innovative UHF technology is essential. Because in the long-term UHF could replace existing HF or LF RFID applications as well as optical systems. Due to its wider range of functions and performance, UHF has the potential to enable a cross-enterprise data flow.

This table shows that UHF can offer a performance and interaction that optical formats can’t:


  UHF Systems Optical Systems
Automation Automated process reduces or eliminates manual scanning Manual scanning or low-level automation
Speed 20,000 units per hour (ms/read) 450 units per hour (s/read)
Convenience Can scan items even when they are hidden from view or inside a package Can scan only what it can see
Efficiency Scanning many at once is possible Scans one at a time
Intelligence Chip memory, which can be updated or rewritten to create a more dynamic and responsive process Static data on the label
Security Security features, such as authentication, can be offered on the item level Security features not available or even possible

Sometimes short range is required

Although the UHF technology can read up to a few meters – which is perfect and even required for (intra)logistic processes – this can also be a challenge, especially in some manufacturing areas. Within part production it is often necessary that the detection range is limited and only one part is detected at a time. In these cases, it’s important that the power is either turned down so far that only one part is detected at a time or a special short-range UHF reader resp. special short-range antenna are used.

The technology’s potential can only be fully exploited if every stage of production is supported by UHF. The use of UHF is versatile and can either be used as closed-loop where the UHF tag stays in the production process or as open-loop with UHF labels that are glued onto or into parts like car bodies, bumpers, head rests, tires etc. where they will remain and possibly be used during the subsequent logistics applications.

Besides eliminating manual processes, UHF RFID delivers full visibility of your inventory (automated!) at any time which helps you to reduce shrinkage and prevent stock losses. This improves your overall business operations. Additionally, you can secure access to certain areas.

Another reason to rely up on UHF is the consistently high standard of data quality. When you acquire the same data type from all areas you can generate trend analysis as the readings can be compared with one another. So, you can obtain extensive information on the entire production process – something that isn’t possible when mixing different technologies. This gives you the opportunity to utilize preventive measures.


The Need for Data and System Interoperability in Smart Manufacturing

As technology advances at a faster pace and the world becomes flatter, manufacturing operations are generally focused on efficient production to maximize profitability for the organization. In the new era of industrial automation and smart manufacturing, organizations are turning to data generated on their plant floors to make sound decisions about production and process improvements.

Smart manufacturing improvements can be divided roughly into six different segments: Predictive Analytics, Track and Trace, Error Proofing, Predictive Maintenance, Ease of Troubleshooting, and Remote Monitoring.IOLink-SmartManufacturing_blog-01To implement any or all of these improvements requires interoperable systems that can communicate effectively and sensors and devices with the ability to provide the data required to achieve the manufacturer’s goals. For example, if the goal is to have error free change-overs between production cycles, then feedback systems that include identification of change parts, measurements for machine alignment changes, or even point of use indication for operators may be required.  Similarly, to implement predictive maintenance, systems require devices that provide alerts or information about their health or overall system health.

Traditional control system integration methods that rely heavily on discrete or analog (or both) modes of communication are limited to specific operations. For example, a 4-20mA measurement device would only communicate a signal between 4-20mA. When it goes beyond those limits there is a failure in communication, in the device or in the system. Identifying that failure requires manual intervention for debugging the problem and wastes precious time on the manufacturing floor.

The question then becomes, why not utilize only sensors and devices with networking ability such as a fieldbus node? This could solve the data and interoperability problems, but it isn’t an ideal solution:

  • Most fieldbuses do not integrate power and hence require devices to have separate power drops making the devices bulkier.
  • Multiple fieldbuses in the plant on different machines requires the devices to support multiple fieldbus/network protocols. This can be cost prohibitive, otherwise the manufacturer will need to stock all varieties of the same sensor.
  • Several of the commonly used fieldbuses have limitations on the number nodes you can add — in general 256 nodes is capacity for a subnet. Additional nodes requires new expensive switches and other hardware.

IOLink-SmartManufacturing_blog-02IO-Link provides one standard device level communication that is smart in nature and network independent, thus it enables interoperability throughout the controls pyramid making it the most suitable choice for smart manufacturing.

We will go over more specific details on why IO-Link is the best suited technology for smart manufacturing in next week’s blog.