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Are Any Manufacturers Using RFID to Track 3,000 to 12,000 Items Daily?
I've been reading your Web site while looking for potential RFID systems to use in manufacturing, and enjoy reading your content. We are seriously looking into RFID and are testing it out at our facility, but are having a hard time finding anyone who uses it. Please let me know if you could help us contact a manufacturer that is employing the technology to produce thousands of widgets per 24-hour cycle. We have a high-level understanding of RFID, but we believe that being able to tour a facility with a working system may spawn our own questions or expand potential possibilities.
—Michael (Kingston, Ontario, Canada)
Your e-mail inquiring about companies that use radio frequency identification was forwarded to me. Only a relatively small percentage of firms currently employ RFID within their operations, and those manufacturers doing so utilize the technology in a variety of ways.
One way in which manufacturers use RFID is to track parts. Whirlpool Corp.'s Clyde Division, based in Clyde, Ohio, is the largest washing machine facility worldwide, covering roughly 2.5 million square feet. Maintaining a highly accurate parts count is necessary to ensure the constant availability of components for production. Last year, the company decided to replace its paper tag-based parts-identification system with a more efficient RFID solution (see Whirlpool Adopts RFID for Parts Identification).
In June 2011, Bell Helicopter implemented an RFID-enabled solution at nine manufacturing facilities to interface with its in-house warehouse-management system, thereby eliminating the need to physically scan parts arriving at or leaving each facility. Automating and error-proofing its existing processes with RFID enabled the firm to avoid costly changes. The deployment has increased factory on-time starts, and has reduced expedites and excess inventory due to loss. The firm has already recouped 120 percent of its investment in RFID (see Bell Helicopter Uses RFID to Save $300K in Business Efficiency and Labor Costs).
Another way to use RFID is to monitor work-in-process (WIP). Endwave Defense Systems, a manufacturer of amplifiers, transceivers and other RF communications modules for the aerospace and defense industries, is employing RFID to gain visibility into its production floor, and to monitor the status of WIP at its 20,000-square-foot facility in Diamond Springs, Calif. (see RFID Helps Endwave Track Work-in-Progress). And Kildeer Mountain Manufacturing, a midsize manufacturer of aerospace parts, also used the technology to streamline processes and obtain visibility into the location of work-in-process (see Aerospace Contractor Using RFID to Enable Just-in-Time Manufacturing).
Other businesses are implementing RFID to track finished inventory and improve shipping accuracy. In September 2011, Carrier's 900,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, located in Collierville, Tenn., deployed an RFID system to create an automated shipping and component verification solution within a high-volume and high-velocity environment. The solution reduced truck-loading errors by more than 80 percent and boosted shipping productivity by 33 percent, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual savings (see How Carrier Made Excellent Manufacturing Even Better With RFID). UTC Climate, Controls and Security (CCS), which manufactures Carrier's heating and cooling equipment, increased productivity by 30 percent, reduced errors by 80 to 90 percent, and improved safety, by using RFID to track components as they are assembled and shipped. Balaji Suresh, CCS' materials manager at Carrier, described the deployment at RFID Journal LIVE! 2013 (see RFID Boosts Safety and Efficiency at UTC Climate, Controls and Security and How Carrier Made Excellent Manufacturing Even Better With RFID).
Still others utilize RFID to track tools. Cessna Aircraft Co., for example, is using the technology to track the precision tools employed at its Wichita metal-bonding facility, where aircraft fuselage, wing and tail assemblies are manufactured. Enabling workers to locate and use tools quickly was deemed a critical area of opportunity for improving operations (see Cessna Looks to RFID for Unlimited Visibility).
So as you can see, there are many ways in which a company can deploy RFID to improve manufacturing operations. If you have a sense of the specific type of system in which you are interested, I can introduce you to several companies that have implemented similar solutions.
—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal
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