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RFID Locates Press Tools at Auto Parts Factory

Voestalpine Polynorm installed RFID readers and antennas on one of its plant's cranes and tagged 8,000 press tools, enabling the company to prevent production delays.
By Claire Swedberg

A team of employees, consisting of Volker Ruitinga, Peter Altena and Bert Koelewijn, developed the solution approximately one year ago, with help from a Dutch service provider. The team began applying passive EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags to the front or top of each tool. The company also attached tags to its warehouse aisles and production lines, in order to help identify locations. In software running on a company-owned server, each tag's ID number is linked to information about the tool or location to which it is attached. The team equipped a single crane with three UHF RFID readers and antennas, to interrogate tags in front of and on both sides of the crane. They interrogated tags from as far away as 15 meters (49 feet), which is the height of the ceiling and, therefore, the greatest possible distance between the crane and the tags.

Once the crane starts moving, its reader begins capturing the IDs of all tags within range, then forwards that data to software running on the company's server, via a Wi-Fi connection. The software interprets that information and determines where the crane and tools are located, based on which tags are read. The software identifies changes in the tools' locations, updating the status of each tool moved. Operators can then use the software to learn the location of each tool that will be required for that day's work.

The crane has custom-made RFID reader antennas that can read tool and location tags as far as 15 meters away.
The system also knows where the crane deposits a tool, based on the location at which the reader ceases reading that item's tag, indicating that the tool has been left behind. In addition, errors are prevented; the system knows that the correct tool is being transported to the assembly line, thereby ensuring that no tool needs to be sent back and replaced due to a mistaken part being selected.

Operating an RFID system within a highly metallic environment proved challenging for the company. The signals transmitted bounce off every tool, voestalpine reports. Throughout its one year of development and testing, the company tested a variety of RFID tags and readers, and ended up choosing a custom-made tag, reader and antenna to provide a reliable read rate.

Since the RFID system was taken live, the company reports, it has saved man-hours by requiring less search time for each tool. What's more, it provides analyses of which tools are used, as well as when and how often. The company plans to install readers and antennas on all of its other cranes in autumn of this year.

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