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RFID Brings Work-in-Progress Visibility to Paint Shop

Rittal is using an IdentPro UHF RFID system to identify where each product is in the paint process, receive alerts about delays and automatically order more paint based on data about each production order's status.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 09, 2015

Rittal, a manufacturer of enclosures for servers and other IT equipment, as well as climate-control and power-distribution systems, is employing radio frequency identification technology to manage the movements of its products through the painting process at its Rittershausen assembly plant. By using RFID, the company knows where each product is in the painting process, as well as how much paint has been used and when it will require replenishment. The company can thus ensure that it has up-to-date information about products that will be available for shipping, address any delays in the painting process and reorder more paint in a timely manner. The technology, provided by German integration firm IdentPro, includes Xerafy on-metal tags.

The painting takes place in what the company refers to as an environmentally friendly paint shop within its 485,000-square-foot factory. The factory features a 10-kilometer-long (6.2-mile-long) conveyor that moves products through the painting process, which involves pre-treating each item, followed by dip-priming and powder-coating.

Installed at various points along the paint shop's 10-kilometer-long conveyor are 22 IdentPro identMX readers with integrated antennas.
Prior to installing the RFID system, Rittal did not track specific units as they proceeded through the painting process. Because of the volume of goods moving through the conveyor system, as well as the length of the conveyor itself, Rittal had found it difficult to know which products were being painted at any given time, how soon they would be finished and how much paint had been used. Since the company did not track individual items, says Michael Wack, IdentPro's founder and managing partner, "raw material purchase orders were based on historical data rather than actual need. Also, actual stock was known rather vaguely."

Rittal first began working with IdentPro on an automated solution in October 2012, and conducted a proof-of-concept in February 2013. The permanent deployment began in August of that year and became operational in June 2014.

There were several challenges to consider as the companies developed the solution, Wack says. For instance, the tags would be attached to hangers on which the products are suspended from the conveyor, and those hangers are exposed to high temperatures and harsh chemicals due to the cleaning processes involved. The tags would also need to work in the presence of metal, and there were software challenges as well. Rittal wanted to receive the RFID-based location data to be managed on its existing SAP system, so integration between IdentPro software and the SAP system was necessary.

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