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ZF Friedrichshafen Shifts to RFID-Guided Production

The German maker of automotive components attaches EPC Gen 2 tags to the housing of each eight-speed transmission it assembles, thus enabling the company to better manage its manufacturing process.
By Rhea Wessel
Dec 23, 2009ZF Friedrichshafen, a supplier of automotive components to major vehicle manufacturers, has expanded its use of radio frequency identification, by adding a system that tracks and guides the production of eight-speed transmissions at the company's plant in Saarbrücken, Germany.

ZF uses UPM Raflatac RFID tags embedded in a protective plastic casing.

During the past three years, the firm gained experience with RFID by using the technology to track shipments (see RFID Helps ZF Speed Transmission Shipments), as well the maintenance history of motors used to operate its assembly line (see RFID Helps ZF Friedrichshafen Maintain Factory Infrastructure).

For the new project, ZF designed a new production process specifically with RFID in mind. The company required a method of identifying each transmission it produces, and had had bad experiences with bar-coded labels, because they often became damaged or fell off during production. After testing RFID tags to make sure they could withstand ZF's harsh industrial environment, the firm implemented RFID technology directly into its production process, creating a factory line to manufacture eight-speed transmissions, that includes roughly 15 points at which RFID tags are identified and information used to control the production process is saved on the tags.

A tag is attached to the exterior of each transmission.

When a transmission housing is cast by ZF or one of its suppliers, the object is fitted with a UPM Raflatac ShortDipole passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID inlay embedded within a protective plastic casing. The inlay, which complies with the EPC Gen 2 standard, has 512 bits of user memory, which ZF encodes with production-related data, says Gerhard Schaller, the company's manager of information technology and factory automation for car driveline technology. Such information includes the article number, the serial number, the date the gearbox was cast and the production machines on which it was made.

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