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RFID-based Automotive Network Project Achieves Its Goals

Some project partners, including Bosch, plan to take the results of the RAN project into the operational phase.
By Rhea Wessel
Some project partners announced their intent to take the RAN project's results into the operational phase. Bosch's board recently signed off on a multiyear project to expand the use of RFID to various production and logistics processes at numerous plants throughout Germany, after reviewing pilots conducted as part of RAN. Across the entire company, not just within Bosch's automotive component factories, Bosch already performs 2 million RFID reads a month, mostly through existing RFID-enabled kanban applications at 10 factories located worldwide.

The company's goal with the expansion is to enable new services for its customers, based on a larger repository of production and process data collected via radio frequency identification, says Andreas Müller, who leads Bosch's RFID efforts. Müller also serves as the head of the RAN use case at Bosch—a job he continues to perform even after RAN's official ending.

Bosch participated in RAN with a pilot involving a test of RFID on returnable transport items (RTIs) exchanged with one of its parts suppliers, as well as a test with automaker Opel. Together, Müller explains, the pilots showed that it will be possible to employ RFID to track which individual automotive parts end up in which vehicles, from supplier to original equipment manufacturer (OEM). Some steps of the applications have been moved into production, while others remain in the testing phase.

In cooperation with its parts supplier, Bosch tested the RFID-based replenishment of RTIs used in production. When an RTI must be replaced, a worker holds a kanban card inside a plastic sleeve (to which an RFID tag is attached) in front of a reader. The system generates a replenishment signal that is transferred to the supplier. The supplier then prints a new kanban card and places it within a plastic sleeve with an RFID tag attached. The kanban ID is linked in the computer system to the RFID tag's unique number.

A reusable plastic cover is used, the company explains, because the RTIs are managed as a pool, and tagging just for Bosch would be unrealistic. The supplier places the RFID-tagged kanban card on the containers, and then delivers them directly to Bosch's logistics area. RFID gates at Bosch detect that delivery, and the system is updated to indicate that the RTIs were received. "This process has the potential to speed up replenishment cycles, and to give real-time information about the actual stock levels," Müller says. "Once it is in production, stock levels of RTIs can be reduced. We are now working to launch the application with suppliers."

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