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RFID Heats Up Production at U.K. Boiler Factory

Vaillant Group uses battery-assisted passive tags to identify where carts loaded with boilers should go next, and the system shuts itself down if a cart is wheeled to the wrong location.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 10, 2011German heating technology manufacturer Vaillant Group is employing radio frequency identification to track work-in-progress as it produces residential boilers at its U.K. plant in Belper, Derbyshire. The system, provided by CoreRFID, has been installed at one of the factory's four assembly lines, and has proven, in the year since installation, to reduce production errors six-fold, the company reports, thereby increasing the quality and efficiency of the assembly process. The technology will be installed over the coming years on all four of the site's assembly lines, according to Richard Sainsbury, the plant's industrial engineering manager.

The Belper plant makes more than 400,000 heating units annually that are sold in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, with the amount of production per month varying according to seasonal demand. Vaillant Group has made high efficiency and high-production volume a priority at all of its plants, Sainsbury says, including the Belper site. In an effort to achieve greater efficiency, the company sought a system that would instruct staff members about the production steps for each piece of equipment, as well as create a record of work-in-progress and halt the system if mistakes are made.


Vaillant Group installed a ThingMagic RFID reader at each workstation.
The production process begins with a boiler chassis on a wheeled cart that passes through 15 separate stages until the boiler is fully assembled, with a single employee building each individual unit. The system monitors workflow to ensure that each step is completed properly, and the boiler continues on to the next step as quickly as possible. Six to 12 carts are in progress on each production line at any given time.

Vaillant Group's focus is on improving the efficiency of moving carts from one station to the next, by instructing employees as to where the product needs to go as soon as a step is finished. Different boilers typically require different assembly processes, and each assembly-floor worker has to make decisions regarding when a task is complete, and when to take a boiler being built to the next station for further assembly. Mistakes are sometimes made, though they might remain undetected until much later.

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