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RFID Data Helps Power Schneider Electric's Smart Factory

The company is inviting customers and partners to view its IoT solution that employs data from RFID, as well as augmented and virtual reality systems, to monitor the status of production and supplies, capture analytics regarding work-in-progress and boost efficiency.
By Claire Swedberg

"The knowledge of what existed in the workflows was only known at certain points in the process," Labhart says. There was no history available, and an individual needed to be in front of a computer in order to view WIP data. That was the case with other IoT-based systems as well. "Our facility is vertically integrated and fairly automated," he explains. There are multiple proprietary systems in place at the plant, which has evolved throughout the years into what he refers to as pockets of data that might indicate which supplies and materials are available but cannot be automatically shared with other departments.

"We may have SQL [software] on one end and paper files on another end of the plant," Labhart says, "while others used a legacy software system that didn't integrate with other operations." So for those on the plant floor or overseeing production, gathering data could prove to be a complex project. Visualization beyond the edge level has been a challenge, he notes, adding, "We had no history of that data. The data existed on the edge, in the moment, but then it was gone." There was no ability to analyze the WIP data, or to correlate a given WIP count with another in order to evaluate performance, and also no ability to share the information.

Since November 2018, however, the data captured and managed by the RFID system has been centralized. Thus, the information is now stored for analytics purposes, can be shared with other departments and can trigger alerts, such as notifying personnel that a supply level could be running low. With this next step, the material counts are now being captured and stored in the cloud, and supervisors receive push notifications if material levels reach an alert point or require action.

In 2009, the RFID system was integrated with the "power-and-freestyle conveyor system" by Thermo-Tron-X Inc., based in Sturgeon Bay, Wisc. This was the first installation of the product at the time, and Schneider worked with its own competency center to develop it. "We did a lot of product testing," Labhart says, which included using a variety of tags and readers to capture each component's unique tag ID, as well as written data, while the conveyors moved the tagged carriers at a speed of 60 feet a minute. The selected RFID tags and reader hardware were provided by the Schneider Electric Sensor Competency Center.

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