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RFID Improves Efficiency and Transparency at Rehau's Bumper Factory

The German auto parts manufacturer is tracking its work-in-progress at eight plants worldwide, ensuring the automotive bumpers it produces are accurately made to order.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 09, 2014

German manufacturer Rehau is employing radio frequency identification technology to track the automotive bumpers it fabricates at its eight global facilities, thereby increasing the efficiency of its processes from injection molding to final fabrication, and to quickly identify any problems related to a particular customer's order. The system tracks the parts through injection molding, painting and fabrication, in order to record each process completed for every bumper. In the long run, the company hopes to expand its use of the solution—which was provided by automatic-identification software firm noFilis AutoID—so that it can track the shipment of bumpers at all facilities. In addition, Rehau is urging its suppliers to begin tagging their own materials prior to shipping them to Rehau's assembly facilities.

Rehau is a global manufacturer of polymer-based products for the automotive, industrial solutions, furniture and construction sectors. Among its products are painted bumper systems for automotive manufacturers. Approximately eight years ago, it began looking into solutions involving passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags, to determine whether the technology could assist in monitoring the locations and status of bumpers during assembly at the company's plant in Feuchtwangen. It started with a single assembly line for bumpers destined for one of its automotive customers, BMW. Rehau designed the solution, selected hardware and created its own software integrated into its own enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

A Rehau factory worker uses a Motorola Psion Walkabout handheld to read a bumper's RFID tag.
Because the RFID technology worked well, the company sought to expand the solution to all bumpers at that site, as well as to those made at its seven other locations around the globe. However, the company reports, the readers it had deployed were becoming obsolete, and integrating software related to disparate RFID systems would be a difficult task. Rehau required an innovative solution that could be integrated into its multiple sites, connect to various reader types, prefilter the captured data and be managed centrally as it expanded the system to its other plants. Therefore, says Marcel Munzert, Rehau's corporate IS production logistics RFID expert, the company signed a contract with noFilis in early 2012, by which noFilis would provide Rehau with RFID hardware and software, as well as integration and support.

Rehau's Marcel Munzert
Prior to deploying RFID, the company had little means of tracking each bumper's location as it moved through several phases of injection molding, painting and fabrication. When a new bumper being built arrived at each workstation, those working on the production floor had to determine that bumper's type and to which station they should send it, based on its style and customer requirements. This was becoming increasingly difficult, the firm reports, as the facility's production output—more than one million bumpers annually—was growing, and customers were requesting more varied styles.

First, the company installed a Bluhm label applicator employing a Sato RFID printer-encoder to create and automatically attach a label made with a UHF RFID Smartrac EPC Gen 2 passive Belt tag—with an NXP Semiconductors Ucode G2iL chip—to the inside face of each bumper, following the injection-molding process. As a pilot project with noFilis, Rehau installed a variety of RFID readers at the Feuchtwangen plant, at various points throughout the fabrication, molding and painting processes. The company used some of the plant's existing readers, and also added Kathrein models.

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