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RFID-enabled wireless messaging applications promise to automate worker and robot communication at car assembly plants.
By Jennifer Maselli
Dec 11, 2003WhereNet, a real-time locating system (RTLS) provider, has released two new messaging applications for automotive plants. The applications, Process Control Messaging and Machine Messaging, leverage existing WhereNet RFID antennas and wireless infrastructure to allow plants to automate parts replenishment, problem identification, status monitoring and workforce communications.
Dan Doles

The existing WhereNet solution for automotive plants allows workers to push a button when they are running low on inventory. The button, which contains a 2.4 GHz RFID tag, sends a signal to a transmitter that sends out messages based on various types of triggers. The Process Control application automates that process. Assembly-line workers can define numerous messaging options including quality alerts, health alerts or requests for supervisor assistance. “Now, if you had a part that needed to be delivered to the assembly line, instead of having a clerk manually enter the data, it’s automated,” says Dan Doles, CEO of WhereNet, which is located in Santa Clara, Calif.

Using WhereNet’s Machine Messaging application, robots that perform certain assembly jobs can automatically transmit a signal via the RFID tag whenever parts inventories run low. The tag’s signal is then picked up by WhereNet’s 802.11b Wi-Fi wireless LAN transceivers, which forward the tag signal information to a database. The database can be integrated with inventory management systems to generate a “pick list” for workers driving forklifts at the plants to deliver new parts. The tags on the robots can also be integrated with quality-monitoring sensors on pieces of equipment. In this case, if a work-in-process fails to meet specifications, the tag can transmit a message to the server software to trigger an alert to the product manager that says there may be a quality problem on a specific machine.

Various alerts can be triggered depending on the configuration of the system. Messages can be sent to production control boards, e-mail systems, pagers, text-message-enabled phones or other third-party applications. The alerts can be repeated if a response isn’t received within a prespecified amount of time or can be resent to another individual.

If a plant has an existing WhereNet system, it would need to purchase additional tags and pay for integration of the new features, says Dan Doles, president and CEO for WhereNet.

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