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Smart Bottles Reduce Glass Breakage

Glass container maker Ardagh Glass, as well as Coca-Cola, Coors and other beverage companies, are using facsimile bottles with built-in active RFID tags and sensors to identify sites on assembly lines that subject the glass to damaging pressure or collisions.
By Claire Swedberg
When Ardagh receives an order for a newly engineered bottle from one of its customers, the company can send the specifications for that glass container to Sensor Wireless, where engineers create a reproduction of the bottle out of acrylic plastic. The smart bottle, which contains a 3-inch-long RFID tag and sensors, is then placed with real bottles moving though the Ardagh Glass facility. The smart bottle's sensors are designed to measure pressure, impacts and temperature. The sensors are wired to a battery-powered RFID tag that constantly transmits data, either by a 900 MHz signal using a proprietary air-interface protocol, a 2.4 GHz signal complying with the ZigBee standard, or both.

ZigBee technology allows the transmission of a greater amount of data, McNally says, but the 900 MHz signal can be more reliable for cases in which there exists 2.4 MHz transmission noise in the facility that could cause interference. As the smart bottle goes through Ardagh Glass' assembly line, staff members place or hold a handheld reader at a particular area of concern, noting the location on the manufacturing line, or in transit to the warehouse, where the impact, pressure or temperature change to the bottles represents a risk for damage.

Wayd McNally
Sensor Wireless' software enables the handheld device to store data read from the smart bottle. This information can be viewed on the handheld's display screen, then be stored and later downloaded into Ardagh Glass' ERP system via a USB connection to a PC. Ardagh employs other software from Sensor Wireless to analyze the manufacturing line, and to test any modifications made to that line that could potentially improve the manufacturing process.

According to McNally, Ardagh Glass has used Agent QC in several of its plants to design and manufacture new bottles for four clients over the past two years, in order to improve the manufacturing process and limit the amount of damage done to bottles, as well as identify trouble spots.

By the end of 2009, McNally indicates, Sensor Wireless intends to offer a GPS feature to its smart bottle system, allowing the tags within the bottles to transmit their sensor data via a satellite antenna installed on trucks transporting the glass receptacles. With a satellite communications antenna on the truck, the sensor data could be linked with GPS information and transmitted via a satellite communications link in real time. This would allow users to understand where an incident (such as strong jolts and vibrations) occurred as empty bottles are shipped from the glass factory, or as bottled beverages are transported to a retailer.

Additionally, Sensor Wireless is working to develop an automated system that would allow the transmission of data to 900 MHz RFID readers or ZigBee nodes deployed throughout the manufacturing line, without requiring any human intervention. That would necessitate installing low-cost readers or nodes along the assembly line, McNally says—something he is still looking into at present. "Most readers today are still quite large and power-hungry," he states.

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