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Bosch Earns Fast ROI From RFID

The company is using RFID-tagged kanban cards to replenish parts for production lines that make diesel fuel injectors.
By Rhea Wessel
Feb 25, 2009Bosch, the world's largest supplier of automotive parts, is employing RFID-tagged kanban cards to trigger the replenishment of components for the diesel fuel injectors it manufactures at two separate locations in Germany. The cards contain passive high-frequency (HF) RFID tags at one site, and passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags at another.

At both plants, Bosch builds diesel fuel injectors on several production lines with machinery primarily controlled by computer. Workers oversee the machines and fill them with parts, such as screws and springs, as necessary. Before radio frequency identification was implemented, it sometimes took up to two hours for parts replenishment orders to be placed. The parts are stored in bins, and when a bin was filled with parts, a kanban card—printed with a bar-code number that identified the type of parts, as well as a human-readable number—was placed on that bin. Once the bins' contents were depleted, workers removed the kanban cards, which were collected from multiple points on the production line and driven to a work station. There, an employee would manually place orders by scanning the cards' bar codes by hand—an error-ridden process, since it was easy to overlook individual cards.

With the goal of speeding up the parts replenishment process, Bosch decided to attach RFID tags to the kanban cards and test the two different types of RFID technology. Because of an existing relationship with Brooks Automation, a company that manufactures HF RFID readers, Bosch opted to test HF technology at its plant in Bamberg, in Bavaria. In Homburg, in the state of Saarland, the firm implemented the UHF RFID system, since it thought it may want to interrogate large batches of tagged kanban cards, or read them with portal readers—neither of which can be done easily with HF RFID tags, due to their shorter read range.

Martin Dobler, CTO of RFID software company noFilis, which was involved in the project, says Bosch began developing the concept together with software maker SAP at the beginning of 2008. Hardware was selected in April of that year, and a pilot began in Homburg in May, and in Bamberg in July. SAP Deutschland served as the software integrator for the project, with noFilis as the device integrator and local companies providing hardware implementation. Bosch hired all of the parties independently, with no single firm serving as overall project integrator.

For the Bamberg deployment, Brooks Automation is supplying HF interrogators and tags that comply with the ISO 15693 standard and operate at 13.56 MHZ. Each HF tag is encoded with a unique ID number that is not an EPC Gen 2 number, but that conforms to the same format and is generated by the SAP system that supports RFID use. The UHF tags operate at 868 MHZ and comply with the EPC Gen 2 standard. When the tags are encoded, both types of tags are linked in the database to specific types of parts. The cards are repeatedly reused for the same components.

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