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At Nokian Tyres, RFID Keeps Treads on Track

By using RFID and bar codes, the Finnish tire manufacturer can monitor reels of rubber tread, thereby improving workflow on the assembly floor.
By Claire Swedberg
May 22, 2008Nokian Tyres is employing an RFID system to track the components of the tires it makes at its plant in Nokia, Finland. The system, provided by Trackway, utilizes both RFID tags and bar-coded labels to provide the tire manufacturer better management of its assembly area as treaded rubber is distributed to assembly lines.

Nokian Tyres began working with the Tampere University of Technology in 2005 to draw up initial plans for an RFID-based system that would better manage the movement of treaded strips of rubber sent to assembly lines for specific tire assembly. Armed with those plans, the company then started seeking vendors of RFID technology.

At a tread manufacturing station, a worker makes 100-meter-long strips of treaded rubber that are wound onto a reel fitted with an EPC Gen 2 UHF passive RFID tag.
The problem the company was attempting to solve involved getting the correct materials to the right assembly lines on time, without developing a backlog at any particular location. Nokian Tyres has 27 assembly lines, so space on its factory floor is limited. If the system works properly, tire treads, wound onto wheeled reels (also known as wagons), are stored in primary and secondary buffer stock areas until they are used. There is often a shortage or backlog of material, however, waiting at manufacturing lines.

One of Nokian Tyres' priorities was to reduce the size of local and primary buffer stock, thereby ensuring the correct amount of product is available at the manufacturing line and not building up as buffer stock. Prior to implementing an RFID system, the company attached color-coded plastic cards, printed with text, to the steel reels to indicate which assembly line they were destined for. Workers then had to estimate the time at which the reels needed to be available for the assembly line.

Nokian Tyres carried out RFID pilot projects involving other vendors before turning to Trackway in 2007. According to Jouni Petrow, Trackway's director of professional services, the resulting RFID system—for which Trackway provided software and integration—directs which types of treads are to be manufactured, monitors stock levels by tracking the location of reels of rubber tread in storage and at the assembly line, and alerts forklift drivers regarding the appropriate time to move a particular reel of treaded rubber to the correct location.

The Trackway system, installed in mid-January 2008, enables Nokian Tyres to manage its RFID interrogators, process its bar-code scanner data and instruct forklift drivers to pick up specific reels and inform manufacturing line employees to create specific treads and tire styles. Two operations take place at the plant: First, the tire company makes 100-meter-long strips of treaded rubber, each of which is then wound onto a reel and delivered to the tire assembly line, as needed, to be unwound, cut and attached to other tire components such as steel cord.

Initially, the Trackway system software informs employees at tread manufacturing stations which size and type of tire tread they need to create. If workers choose to make a different tread type and size than what is requested, they must first manually override the system.

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