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RFID Heats Up Production at U.K. Boiler Factory

Vaillant Group uses battery-assisted passive tags to identify where carts loaded with boilers should go next, and the system shuts itself down if a cart is wheeled to the wrong location.
By Claire Swedberg
Workers follow lines marked on the floor as they transport the carts from one station to the next in a U shape. The AMS software tracks the tasks completed at each workstation by capturing information regarding which electronic tools were used at the stations, and in what order—enabling screw counting, as well as torque and angle measurements governed by tolerance limits. When a task is completed at one station, that data is stored on the AMS system, and the software then instructs the next workstation tools to power on, once the specific RFID tag for that boiler chassis cart is read.

Richard Sainsbury
There are two workstations for most of the 15 stages of the production process. A ThingMagic Astra RFID reader was installed at each station, culminating in the deployment of approximately 28 interrogators, some as close as eight feet apart. As soon as the work at one station is completed, the software triggers the next station to look for that tag. A video monitor then instructs the assembly-floor worker to wheel the cart to the next appropriate station. Because the readers seek an RFID tag ID only when triggered to do so by the AMS software, the company is able to reduce the risk of false reads (reads of tags in the neighboring area), since not all readers are active simultaneously.

What's more, the system stores information regarding the time at which each piece arrived at each station, thereby providing the engineering team with greater details as to where bottlenecks occur, as well as where any boiler (and corresponding operator) is in the assembly process at any given time.

Now that the RFID system has been installed at the Belper facility, the company plans to introduce a similar system at its other sites across Europe. "We have become a showcase for the group, and it will become group standard across all products when new versions are launched," Sainsbury states, noting that the Belper plant intends to expand the RFID system to all of its lines over the course of four to five years. "We will have a second implementation [on a new production line] in the second half of this year, then roughly every 18 months until they are all completed."

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