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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.
To that end, AMC worked with Volvo to create a solution that would enable personnel to identify a bracket simply by picking it up. Bob Forslund, AMC's owner, says that it would be impractical for a worker to carry a handheld reader in one hand to interrogate a tag, while holding a heavy bracket in the other. So instead, he developed a solution by which a reader is attached to a user's arm via a cuff, with two reader antennas built into a thumb cover worn over a work glove. The device then has a Bluetooth connection to a portable computer.
Volvo suggested using a coin-shaped LF tag that could be glued to a flat surface on each bracket. Forslund also developed and built a glass-encased RFID tag inserted into a special housing that could be attached to a 90-degree weld joint using a hot-melt adhesive. Both types of tags, he says, were each attached to 50 brackets, which then underwent a regimen of mechanical shaking (in a vibrator set at 26 hertz) to approximate the abuse that tags might need to sustain during seven years of frequent shipments to and from a customer's site. The test results indicated that all of the coin-shaped tags were destroyed, whereas all AMC tags survived.
AMC constructed a reader that attaches around a person's upper arm via an arm cuff, and is wired to an antenna built into a thumb cuff that fits over a glove. A Motorola PDA was then used to receive the RFID read data (the unique ID number of each interrogated tag) via a Bluetooth transmission from the reader. The Datema software residing on the PDA would identify the item and the bin in which it belongs, and instruct the worker accordingly via an audio recording played through the PDA's speaker or an earphone. The PDA forwards that data to the software residing on the factory's database, thereby creating a digital record of how many times each bracket was used.
Prior to being shipped to customers, each powertrain, along with the brackets on which it is mounted, is spray-painted. Consequently, each bracket periodically needs to have the paint stripped off its surface. The software tracks the number of times each bracket has been shipped (and thus painted), and can then alert the worker receiving and sorting brackets when a specific bracket needs to be depainted. Prior to the RFID technology's installation, the company had to estimate when the paint needed to be stripped, and brackets were often depainted more frequently than necessary as a result.
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