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Mitsubishi Electric Automotive America Hopes to Save Costs Through RFID

The manufacturer of automotive electrical parts is working with Midtronics to introduce a system that uses radio frequency identification to guide workers through maintenance and diagnostic procedures, and records results on RFID tags attached to trucks and components.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 18, 2011Automotive electrical parts maker Mitsubishi Electric Automotive America (MEAA) has teamed up with battery-management company Midtronics to add RFID functionality to Midtronics' test equipment that customers of Mitsubishi Electric's parts could utilize to gain an automated electronic record of maintenance and repair to those components.

The system, known as MRFID—which the two companies announced this month—is not yet in use. However, the firms are currently in discussions with truck-fleet operators that are Midtronics customers and are using the MEAA starters and alternators, to see the RFID system deployed this year. But that is only the short-term plan, says Chris Page, Midtronics' senior business manager. In the long term, the company envisions a system in which electrical component manufacturers (such as Mitsubishi Electric) would attach or embed RFID tags on truck parts as they are made, and those tags would then be read by mechanics as they service trucks in which those parts are installed, sharing the data with fleet managers and truck and parts manufacturers and suppliers.

The system includes a single passive high-frequency (HF) RFID tag attached to a truck, to store the maintenance history of that vehicle's electrical system, as well as tags attached to Mitsubishi components. Tags attached to components would have sufficient memory to allow each tag to store a more detailed maintenance history of the individual component to which it was attached.

Users of Midtronics' testing devices would utilize RFID readers provided by Midtronics (the specific reader manufacturer has yet to be determined) to read and write to the tag. To share all of the related data, the firm has also established the Battery Management Information System (BMIS) a software application, which would reside on a Web-based server hosted by Midtronics in order to share information regarding the maintenance of parts and vehicles with authorized parties. When it named the software, the company foresaw using RFID only to track vehicle batteries. However, the system's intended use has expanded. Instead of tracking just vehicle batteries, the technology will also be utilized to track the installation and testing of alternators and starters manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric, and to manage the process of returning malfunctioning alternators and starters to the manufacturer, to be repaired or rebuilt and replaced—in some cases, while the items are still under warranty.

"The primary purpose of the return tag is to communicate the test information along with the return of warranty parts," says Adam Warmack, Mitsubishi Electric Automotive America's account manager.

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