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Continental Tire Uses RFID to Keep Production Rolling

The company is utilizing Wi-Fi-based tags to locate components for its tire-assembly plant, reducing the time workers spend searching for parts and ensuring that they are used before expiring.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 04, 2011Continental Tire of the Americas has deployed an RFID system to help it reduce the time its staff spends searching for containers filled with components needed for tire assembly, as well as decrease the amount of waste by providing alerts when parts need to be used before becoming too old. The technology that is helping the firm to achieve this goal includes AeroScout's Wi-Fi-based RFID tags and MobileView software. The system went live in early 2010 at the company's assembly plant in Mount Vernon, Ill.

Continental Tire of the Americas is a subsidiary of Continental AG, which makes tires at 13 facilities worldwide, for all major automobile and truck manufacturers. The Illinois plant produces more than 1,000 car and truck tire stock-keeping units (SKUs) at its 60-acre (2.6-million-square-foot) facility, says Greg Pemberton, Continental Tire of the Americas' MIS director.

The company sought a solution for the factory's 500,000-square-foot passenger car and light truck (PLT) section. The tires are assembled from numerous components, built on a drum and then cured in a press under heat and pressure, after which they are tested on a finish machine to make sure the wheels are correctly balanced. Continental's PLT section has 30 tire finish machines and 300 curing machines, and produces 500 different SKUs.

The greatest challenges faced, the company reports, were the sheer size of the facility and the quantity of components necessary for tire manufacture, as well as the need to utilize rubber components quickly (since rubber degenerates over time, the firm limits how old such parts can be when used on its products). When specific components were required on a manufacturing line, employees spent considerable time searching for them.

"Our primary challenges were physically finding the components," Pemberton says. "We have a good inventory system. We knew what we had, but couldn't necessarily find them." Whenever parts needed at an assembly machine could not be found, he notes, production time was lost. What's more, if a component remained too long at the warehouse, it could pass its shelf life and be rendered unusable.

According to Pemberton, the company began with a pilot that involved attaching AeroScout RFID tags to 50 breakers—the 3- by 5-foot containers used for carrying tire components. The pilot proved that the technology could make it easier to locate specific carriers based on data culled from the carriers' tags, and Continental thus expanded the number of tagged containers to 550.

Continental Tire's staff inputs data regarding the components within each container, and also scans the bar-coded ID number printed on the exterior of the container's tag (the bar-coded ID matches the unique ID encoded on the RFID tag's memory). The tags' RF signals are received by Wi-Fi nodes, so the company installed additional Cisco nodes in order to enhance the granularity of location data throughout its facility. With this enhancement, the system is able to locate the carriers' RFID tags to within 15 feet on the floor.

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