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New RFID Platform For Automakers

Athena Integration has introduced a software suite that uses data from RFID tags to transform manufacturing operations.
Sep 12, 2002Sept. 12, 2002 -- Athena Integration, a startup based in Troy, Mich., has introduced a software suite that uses data from RFID tags to automate many routine transactions, such as receiving parts from suppliers. The system lets manufacturers focus on events outside the norm, such as a delayed shipment.

Athena has created a tailored version of its software for the automobile industry. Automakers have been slow to move toward RFID tracking, but Athena decided to focus on it because it has eight to ten tiers of suppliers. The Japanese kanban system of just-in-time manufacturing has been working fairly well. But Athena believes it can take the industry to the next level.

"The core of our system is an event-based engine," says Athena CTO Amir Khan. "We believe that the supply chain and enterprise resource planning systems of the future will no longer be based on transactions. They are going to be event-oriented systems, where the products are smart enough to talk to computers. The transactions will be recorded automatically, and you only have to deal with events when the transactions don't occur the way they are supposed to."

Under the kanban system pioneered by Toyota, parts are delivered to a workstation along the assembly line only when the station requests them by delivering a card (the "kan") and an empty container. The requests then flow back through the tiers. This essentially changed the parts flow from system in which suppliers pushed parts to the plant to one in which manufacturers pull parts in as they needed them.

Athena believes RFID can take the process a step further by delivering information in real-time. A chassis moving up the assembly line would have an RFID tag that would tell robots and assembly line workers what parts to install and how. Each time a part is used, systems would record that automatically. The Athena software is designed to ensure that these transactions happen according to the plan.

"With RFID, we have an opportunity to provide a very large scale manufacturing company with near real-time information," Khan says. "You can virtually eliminate the lags and delays associated with information gathering and create a nimbler enterprise. It becomes no more expensive and difficult to offer a car with a four-, six- or 12-CD changer."

Athena is partnering with RFID hardware suppliers, including SAMSys Technologies. It plans to offer different versions of its product tailored for different industries. The company has also developed XML integration models designed to make integration with SAP, Oracle, Retek and other enterprise software simpler.
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