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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
Once the tags are applied, ZF or its supplier employs RFID interrogators—both handheld and fixed—to test the tags and store casting information on them. The supplier then sends the transmission housings to ZF, where the latter interrogates the tags in order to identify the transmission housings, which it then moves onto the production line.

At multiple points along the production line, an RFID interrogator reads a transmission's tag.

Along the production line, ZF identifies the housing approximately 15 times during three production phases: mechanical processing, gearbox assembly and gearbox inspection, according to Jürgen Kusper, a business solution manager at B&M Tricon Auto-ID Solutions, an Austria-based business that served as the project's planner and integrator. Kusper described the project at the RFID Journal LIVE! Europe 2009 conference, held earlier this year near Frankfurt.

At multiple points along the fully automated production line, ZF interrogates the tags using either a long-range reader or a read-write station. At each point, the system reads the tags and may retrieve information from them that can change the course of production for particular transmission units. For instance, processing parameters and measurements may be used for custom production. At the read-write stations, the system updates data encoded to the tag, such as adding production status information.

B&M Tricon's Jürgen Kusper
"The entire production process is controlled by RFID," Kusper says.

In the final phase of production, each transmission is filled with oil and given a test run, to ensure that it functions properly. Once the transmission passes this test, the system then encodes the item's serial number to the RFID tag, and some production information remains on the tag for the purpose of diagnostics and process monitoring. The remainder of the production data remains on ZF's servers for tracking purposes, in the event of a problem.

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