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RFID Pinpoints Parts Production for Electrofusion

The fabricator of specialized metal parts has deployed an RFID-based system enabling its engineers to better manage its manufacturing processes.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Feb 01, 2008At its shop in Fremont, Calif., the Electrofusion division of Brush Wellman makes a wide range of small, high-value parts, such as beryllium foil used in X-ray machines and acoustic speaker domes. The factory keeps its five engineers busy, each managing up to 25 simultaneous projects. But a newly deployed RFID system created by IT solution provider AmberDove has greatly eased the strain of trying to keep multiple orders on track and completed on time, according to the facility's director, Edward Hefter, and its operations manager, Greg Higgins.

Higgins explains that before his shop deployed AmberDove's NxMES system, trying to keep track of multiple projects was like watching a skyful of airplanes, each moving in a different direction, with no clue where they were headed or when they would arrive. But with NxMES, he says it feels more like watching an air traffic controller's computer screen, with details about the routes all the planes are taking.

Electrofusion attached Alien EPC Gen 2 Squiggle tags to its plastic bins, which hold printed work orders and the parts being fabricated to fulfill those orders.

AmberDove's platform, designed to improve visibility into manufacturing execution systems, can be used with either RFID or bar-code technology. An AmberDove appliance controls the RFID or bar-code readers, which makes installing and setting them up a quick process, says AmberDove's CEO, Michael Ibrahim. Electrofusion is using the AmberDove appliance to control Alien Technology EPC Gen 2 RFID interrogators, which read Alien EPC Gen 2 Squiggle tags attached to plastic bins. Each bin contains a work-order printout and the parts being fabricated to fulfill that particular order.

Electrofusion determined where in its facility each interrogator would be installed, based on the layout of its production machinery and the existing workflow and movements of its production workers. The company laid out the Ethernet and power cables required to plug the readers into the AmberDove appliance. It then utilized the software running on the appliance to drag and drop reader icons onto a floor plan of its facility that had been uploaded. The software runs on the AmberDove appliance that also functions as a Web application server, enabling Hefter, Higgins and all of the engineers, planners and other Electrofusion personnel who need to access the software to do so through a Web interface.

For each part it makes, Electrofusion set up a manufacturing process plan in the AmberDove software. The plan details the location of each production step the part must undergo, along with a timeline that includes deadlines the technicians must meet to complete a project on time.

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