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German Manufacturer Links Workers to Parts and Stations Via RFID, Bluetooth

Bosch Rexroth developed the solution to improve efficiency and accuracy at its own hydraulic valve assembly facility, and is marketing the system for use by other manufacturers as well.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 26, 2015

Bosch Rexroth, a manufacturer of electric drives and controls, has boosted productivity and reduced the volume of inventory it must keep onsite, by integrating radio frequency identification technology at its assembly line in Homburg, Germany. By employing a hybrid RFID and Bluetooth beacon solution that it developed in-house, the company has also made the production of several hundred variants of hydraulic valves more efficient and less error-prone.

The new assembly line solution, which was taken live in fall 2014, recognizes the worker at each particular workstation, as well as the components for the item being assembled there, and sends the appropriate instructions for the work in front of that individual. The system also tracks how many components are being used, thereby triggering the reordering of parts as needed. The company is currently marketing the technology to other manufacturers as well, while it plans to continue its own use of the system.

The solution sends instructions to each employee at his or her workstation, based on the components for the particular item being assembled at that location.
Bosch Rexroth, a division of the Bosch Group, makes products for the automotive industry, including hydraulics, electric drives, controls, gear technology, and linear motion and assembly technologies. The Bosch Rexroth factory in Homburg assembles more than 200 different types of hydraulic valves, according to the needs of its various customers.

Bosch Rexroth's Andreas Jenke
Until last year, these 200 valve variations were manufactured on three parallel assembly lines. Because production lots are typically fairly small, the company must be ready to make any of the variants with short notice, meaning it must maintain an on-hand inventory of 2,000 different components for a variety of orders. In addition, workers had to identify each type of valve being made according to paper instructions. This process, the company reports, was slow and created a potential for errors.

The solution is a high-frequency (HF) RFID and Bluetooth system designed to link workers, products and machines during the assembly process. Bosch Rexroth refers to it as an Industry 4.0 solution—part of a public and private initiative to bring machines and the Internet together to allow for more intelligent manufacturing. The company uses its own RFID hardware and developed the IOT-Suite software (residing on a private, cloud-based server) that manages and stores the RFID- and Bluetooth-based data captured on the assembly floor, as well as displaying the appropriate data for workers.

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