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Volvo Workers Use Arm-mounted RFID Readers to Identify Heavy Equipment
At the company's powertrain factory, workers wearing thumb covers with RFID antennas can hear an audio voice recording describing an item and its appropriate location each time they pick it up.
Aug 21, 2013—
For the past seven years, workers at Volvo's powertrain factory in Skövde, Sweden, have been identifying steel support brackets by means of a low-frequency (LF) 125 kHz RFID reader strapped to a sleeve, reader antennas attached to the thumb of a work glove and a PDA worn on the belt. The system tells users (via an audio voice-recording) which bracket they have in their hands every time they pick one up, and instructs them where to put it. The brackets are used to protect a powertrain (an engine and transmission) as it is shipped to a customer. The solution provider, Advanced Manufacturing Consultancy (AMC), is now marketing an updated version of the technology for users in the manufacturing industry that would be easier to wear and faster to operate, by employing a smaller reader that communicates with the PDA via ZigBee technology.
The system—which AMC initially designed for the Volvo powertrain factory—includes AMC's own RFID tags and a reader with a built-in HID Global reader engine, as well as Datema Mobility software to manage the collected read data. The factory builds engines and transmissions according to customer specifications. There is a great deal of variety in those specifications, the company reports, based on the country in which a particular customer is located. Each powertrain is mounted on a base frame with a combination of various steel support brackets, in order to ensure that it is not damaged during shipping, and is then placed within a wooden box. The plant utilizes a total of 60 to 70 brackets in varying configurations and sizes. Upon receiving the powertrains from the factory, a customer returns the frame and brackets. Staff members at Volvo Powertrain then remove the various brackets from the boxes in which the powertrains were shipped, and place them in a large bin to be sorted later.
According to the company, the sorting process posed a major challenge. Each bracket had to be identified and stored within a specific bin along with similar brackets, so that they could be accessed for the next shipment. However, workers often had trouble determining which bracket was which—the difference between them could sometimes be as minor as the location of a screw hole. Employees thus had to be trained to identify each item, and the process of visually inspecting them was time-consuming and error-prone.
To resolve the problem, Volvo sought an automated system that would make sorting easier and eliminate errors, thereby ensuring that no delays in shipments occurred due to the proper bracket not being in the expected bin. Because the brackets are so heavy (weighing up to 55 pounds apiece), employees needed a way to carry an item with both hands and still be able to easily identify it.
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