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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
When an order for a part is received, the lead project planner places a printout of the order in a bin, along with the base material for that part, then reads the tag ID to associate the bin with the order number and the part type in the AmberDove software. As the part traverses the manufacturing process, a technician at each production station places the bin next to an interrogator antenna mounted on a nearby shelf. The lead engineer, project planner or any of the machinists can then monitor the progress of a particular order, based on the read locations and times for the bin carrying that order.

AmberDove enables the engineer to know when a hiccup could throw a project off schedule. For example, a part's prescribed manufacturing process might begin at a stamping machine, then move to a lathe and on to a heating station. At each step, an interrogator reads the tag on the bin carrying the part.

At each production station, the tagged bins are placed on a shelf with an RFID interrogator antenna.

If, for instance, the readers indicate that the bin arrived at the heating station before being taken to the lathe station, the software sends an alert to the engineer overseeing that order. If a bin shows up at a station later than scheduled, the engineer receives another alert. Thus, the engineer can take proactive action to get a project back on course, rather than having to react after a part fails to be completed on time.

Technicians watch a computer monitor directing them as to which projects are priorities, so they can move from one project to the next in the optimal order. "For us, planning and execution are vital," Higgins says, "but this is a very dynamic environment, and things come up that force us to change plans already in execution." The AmberDove system, he notes, has enabled the company to make changes in the order-fulfillment process, and to communicate those changes in real time to everyone in the plant who needs to be informed.

Once an order is complete, the parts are removed from the bin and the ID number encoded to its tag is disassociated from the order so the bin can be reassigned to the next order. Hefter and Higgins claim the readers have no problem reading the Gen 2 UHF tags attached to the bins, despite the metal-heavy environment of the production shop and the metallic nature of the parts within the bins.

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