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Nemak Tracks the Production of Engine-Block Molds

At each workstation, the power-train components manufacturer writes sensor data to passive HF RFID tags, to record the results of each step of its automated assembly process.
By Claire Swedberg

Attached to each carrier is a Balluff 13.56 MHz high-frequency (HF) RFID tag, compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, with 2 kilobits of memory. The tag's ID number is interrogated by the first of 18 Balluff BIS V readers along the assembly line, thus creating a record that will then be linked to the mold being created.

At each station, the carrier's RFID tag is read. The system then proceeds with the next step of the manufacturing process, and additional sensor data is written to the tag. Once the mold reaches the end of the assembly line, the carrier's tag is read a final time, at which point the system determines whether there are any error reports written to the tag. If any are, the assembly line shuts down and an alert is issued to the staff, indicating that a problem has occurred, along with the specific station at which this took place. Employees can then either discard the mold or send it back through processing, after resolving the error. In addition, personnel can check the machinery at the station at which the error took place, in order to ensure that the problem does not recur.

At each workstation, a Balluff RFID reader antenna, mounted on the factory floor, interrogates the ID number of the carrier's RFID tag, and encodes that tag with information related to work performed at that station.

At this final station, the RFID data recorded on the carrier's tag is stored in Nemak's back-end system, and is linked to the individual mold's serial number. The tag is then erased, and the carrier is reused to manufacture another engine-block mold.

"We know we aren't sending a bad product to the customer," Fortier states, adding that the system provides an automated record regarding the assembly of each block's mold, so that in the event of a recall, the company could ascertain what occurred during assembly, as well as which other items were assembled simultaneously. Later this year, Nemak intends to open a new assembly line, at which it will include the same technology.

The next step for Nemak, Fortier says, is to find a way in which to track the mold beyond the assembly line. Once the mold leaves the line, it is filled with molten aluminum to create the engine block. Once the aluminum hardens, the sand and resin mix is baked off in an oven, and the remaining block is cleaned and shot-blasted. However, he notes, Nemak has not yet been able to identify an RFID tag that can survive the oven's temperatures, which range from 400 degrees to 500 degrees Celsius (752 degrees to 932 degrees Fahrenheit).

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