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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
When a truck arrives at the dealer or service center, an RFID tag attached to its windshield, door jam or glove box would be read using the handheld interrogator. The tag stores data about the vehicle, including its make, model and year, as well as the maintenance history. Information from the tag would then sent from the reader to the hosted BMIS application, which would store that data and begin displaying a list of steps for the user to complete based on the vehicle's particular needs, such as maintenance or repair. Once this work is completed, the user would hold the interrogator near the vehicle's tag and write a list of completed procedures.

If a problem were found with regard to an alternator or starter, that component would be tested, and if it needed to be returned to MEAA, a tag would then be attached to that part, with the details of the tests written to that tag. At the same time, all vehicle and component data would be uploaded to the BMIS software on the Midtronics server, where it could then be accessed by MEAA, the service provider or the truck fleet owner, if so requested.

"The beauty of this is it provides a benefit for all the players along this chain," Page states. For MEAA, it provides an easier warranty process, in which it can simply read a tag, capture warranty data along with information regarding the component's functionality, and then ease the process of either completing a warranty claim, refurbishing the part or just replacing it. "Having that capability to read data from the tag," Warmack says, "gives us an automated way to receive warranty data." For fleet owners, there is an electronic trail of when and how each vehicle was maintained, thus allowing better management of trucks' maintenance schedules, based on the results of the tests. For example, some parts may not need to be replaced as early as the company would have scheduled replacement, if testing found it operating properly and that data was provided in the BMIS system.

Midtronics has patents on the technology, Page says, as well as several that are pending.

Both Mitsubishi Electric and Midtronics are presently in discussions with customers about the solution, and deployments are planned for this year, though at this time, the two companies have declined to name any participants. The long-term vision, Page notes, consists of every component manufacturer attaching tags to their parts, and every maintenance service provider using a tester equipped with RFID readers. However, he says, that prospect could still be several years away.

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