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Fiat Shows How RFID Could Help Recycle Car Parts

The Fiat-designed test system, part of the EC-funded PROMISE project, tracks components using an RFID-enabled computer built into a vehicle.
By Rhea Wessel
Nov 06, 2006Midway through a European Commission-sponsored research project to track products throughout their life cycle, Italian automaker Fiat has provided a demonstration showing how RFID could help the company create new revenue streams from scrapped vehicles.

A product's life cycle stretches from the item's inception to its disposal, and this demonstration focuses on the "end of life" phases of that cycle. In Fiat's case, it's the end of a car's life, according to Dimitris Kiritsis, a staff member at the Laboratory for Computer-aided Design and Production at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). Kiritsis is the scientific coordinator of the PROMISE project, a 22-member consortium that includes Fiat. PROMISE stands for Product Lifecycle Management and Information Tracking Using Smart Embedded Systems. The project aims to develop the technology and information models required to trace and provide up-to-date information on each individual product manufactured in a factory. In addition to Fiat, PROMISE members include Caterpillar, SAP, Infineon Technologies and the University of Cambridge. The project started in November 2004. When it ends in April 2008, PROMISE is expected to have cost an estimated 15.5 million euros (US$19.8 million). About 8 million euros (US$10.3 million) will come from the European Commission.

In the European Union, laws mandate that 80 percent of each car be recycled, and this amount is expected to rise. Fiat designed a test system in which it applies RFID tags to certain car components and records the status of these components on an Electronic Control Unit (ECU), a type of RFID-enabled computer built into the car. When one of those components no longer functions, the servicing garage replaces it with a new RFID-tagged part, and the ECU interrogates the component's tag to upload information about the new part. In the event that a car must be scrapped, a driver can leave his car behind at a servicing garage without paying for disposal. System operators then read the information on the ECU by downloading it to the mechanic's computer—or, it could be interrogated via another RFID reader as the car enters the garage. The software in the back end of the system then assesses the residual value of each tagged component to see if it can be resold.

Fiat is conducting ROI studies, but has not yet published any information. The company has some positive indications, but these are based on estimations, Kiritsis told attendees at the RFID Journal LIVE! Europe conference, held in mid-October.

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