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Osram Sylvania Lightens Its Workload

The lightbulb maker uses I.D. Systems' RFID solution to automatically replenish the supply of materials on assembly lines, as well as track the activities of its forklifts.
By Claire Swedberg
When the sensors alert the PLC that an assembly line's supply of materials or components is running low, the PLC sends a message via a cabled Ethernet connection to its server, which then alerts a Line Asset Communication (LAC) unit, designed and provided by I.D. Systems for this solution. The LAC, which consists of an RFID transceiver, antenna and microprocessor, receives instructions that a supply of a specific material or component requires replenishment, then sends that message to one of seven Wireless Asset Managers (WAMs)—along with the assembly line's location—via a 902-928 MHz RFID signal. The WAM, in turn, sends the LAC data via a cabled connection to the Vehicle Management System (VMS) Vision software, provided by I.D. Systems and residing on the company's back-end database.

The software takes the instructions and then—through the triangulation of signals received by the WAMs from forklift VACs—determines the appropriate forklift driver, based on his location and current activity in the facility. All forklifts are equipped with VACs, which act as active RFID tags but include not only RFID transmission capabilities but also a built-in computer, a keypad, a display screen and an LED that blinks when an order is received. If the system determines that a specific forklift is located closest to the assembly line in need, and if the forklift is not otherwise occupied, a replenishment order is sent by the VMS to the WAM in that area, which then transmits that request to the forklift's VAC.

The VAC's LED blinks, and its display screen tells the driver what the order consists of, and where the supplies are needed. The driver then presses a prompt to either accept or decline the order. The status is sent back through the WAM to the back-end software, thus indicating whether the order is being addressed. If it has been declined, the software sends an order to the next, most appropriate driver. If that driver accepts the order, he picks up the ordered materials, delivers them to the appropriate assembly line location, and presses a prompt on the VAC, thus indicating the order has been completed. The software is then alerted that the driver is available for another pick up.

The VAC also has a built-in RFID interrogator that reads a forklift driver's HID Prox passive 125 kHz RFID identity card. Each driver carries such a card, encoded with a unique ID number linked to his name in Sylvania's back-end system. When the driver begins his shift, he presents his card to the VAC, which reads that ID number, then sends that information to the system, indicating he has begun his shift. From that point on, all tasks accomplished by that forklift, as well as all locations where the forklift travels, are recorded and can be accessed by Sylvania's management. After the driver has presented his ID card and been approved by the system, the VAC screen displays a series of questions which he must answer by pressing responses on the keypad, indicating the forklift's status, such as any damage to the vehicle, or any inoperable parts.

In the event of a collision, sensors on the forklift detect that incident, and the impact's location is stored with an alert in Sylvania's back-end system, enabling management to see when and where the collision occurred, as well as who was driving at the time.

The software can also compile data for future reports, such as the number of orders each forklift completes in a given amount of time, thereby helping the firm improve efficiency throughout the warehouse and assembly area.

"We talked about a lot of different ways to make this system work," says Ken Ehrman, I.D. Systems' president and COO. "And what Sylvania has come up with is an elegant system."

According to Rupp, the Sylvania team was able to improve productivity two months ahead of its projected schedule.

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