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At Glass Factory, RFID Boosts Worker Safety and Productivity

AGC Flat Glass Europe is using EPC tags and readers to help automate the packaging of large sheets of glass, and to ensure forklift drivers are beyond the reach of robot-operated cranes.
By Rhea Wessel
This is the dangerous part of the process, and the system helps managers ensure no one is in an area where the crane is carrying out its work. Because the interrogators automatically identify the tags of the particular stillage a forklift is carrying, the system knows when a worker is in a specific row in the packaging room, and keeps the crane from operating there during that time.

When the system was implemented in 2006, the project organizers chose EPC Gen 1 RFID tags operating at 870 MHz because the tests showed they were satisfactory, and because the tags were available at a reasonable price at that time. The system employs a total of four interrogators from CAEN RFID, with IBM providing systems integration services.


AGC Flat Glass Europe's plant in Moustier, Belgium

The project's challenges included setting up the system in the factory's metallic environment and determining the proper position for the tags and reader antennas to ensure a satisfactory read rate. The system's ability to read the tags depends on the forklift's position, Deneye told conference attendees, as well as the tag's position on the stillage.

"We are currently improving the system," he stated. "Users are notified each time a read is successful, so they know when to enter data manually, if necessary."

According to Deneye, the total project cost was rather limited and allowed for a return on investment within two years through fewer employee injuries and a productivity increase. The company is presently considering introducing RFID into production, since the same stillages are used in that process as well.

"We are thinking of future expansion of the RFID project," Deneye said, "but for that, we need to find new opportunities with reasonable payback for deploying this technology."

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