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VW's Auto City Runs on RFID

As many as 700 customers daily pick up their new cars at Volkswagen's theme park, where workers use RFID to ready each vehicle and match it up with the right owner.
By Rhea Wessel
Each predelivery station is equipped with an I-PORT, so the location of a car is updated automatically. Four or five people sitting at a mission-control-style console can oversee the movement of vehicles among the stations. This overview is helpful if managers have to intervene to get a car ready for pickup quicker than usual, or to improve the efficiency of the entire process.

When the car is ready for delivery, it is driven to an ILR-enabled gate, where the dimensions of the wheelbase are read from the tag. This information is used to adjust the tracks automatically so the car can be loaded onto a transporting platform after the gate opens. The vehicle is conveyed to a 48-meter-high glass tower that holds 400 cars for storage and viewing by Autostadt visitors. The cars are retrieved from the tower without the help of drivers. Everything is automated and computerized, including the elevators that shuttle the cars up and down. RFID tags stay in the cars but are used only to tell the automated transport system details about the car before it goes into the system, and when it exits the transporting platform.

To locate and retrieve a new car from a holding lot, a worker drives a van equipped with an RFID interrogator.

At present, 36 i-PORT interrogators and about 12,000 tags are in use. Although the holding lots contain about 10,000 vehicles at any given time, extra tags are needed for when the cars cycle through the predelivery processes. The system is capable of delivering 800 cars a day. If two additional delivery towers were to be built, an estimated total of 1,600 cars could be delivered daily.

Although the system is tried and tested, problems still can occur from time to time. "Sometimes, a driver takes a vehicle to the wrong spot, creating a backlog at various work stations. Or, a transponder may fall to the floorboard of the vehicle after being knocked down by a driver or worker and become unreadable when an interrogator has a short range," says Michael.

In some stations, readers are specifically set to a short range because of "environmental" restrictions. For example, on the cleaning line, two cars may enter the belt at one time on two different lanes. Readers interrogate at short range in order to identify only the cars in a specific lane. Finally, if a car has a special front windshield with an embedded defroster much like that of a rear windshield, its tag cannot be read quickly, so interrogators must be positioned to the side of a vehicle.

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