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Manufacturing Value

RFID provides visibility into parts and processes, improving efficiencies and reducing costs, but manufacturers must take an enterprise approach to maximize benefits and savings.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Oct 01, 2012—If you've visited Finland or other Nordic countries, there is a good chance you've looked out a window or opened a door manufactured by Fenestra Oy. The company produces more than half a million windows and doors each year, and for the past six years, it has been using radio frequency identification technology as part of a major automation initiative that enabled its transition to a make-to-order manufacturing process. Rather than stocking standard windows, the company now makes custom products, quickly and efficiently, to better meet customers' requirements.

"It is easy to say that we are glad we chose RFID to automate the manufacturing process," says Kari Lahti, Fenestra's production manager.

One of more than 50 RFID readers integrated throughout the production lines at Fenestra Oy's manufacturing plant, to track work-in-process. (Photo: Fenestra Oy)

Before Fenestra adopted an RFID work-in-process (WIP) application, workers had to manually confirm each component's specifications before the part was processed. Now, RFID tags attached to individual components, such as window frames and sashes, are identified by an infrastructure of more than 50 RFID readers integrated throughout the production lines at Fenestra's manufacturing plant. Each tag is encoded with a unique identifier that references, in Fenestra's enterprise software, the specific order for which the window or door is being made. This triggers the machine to cut, drill, paint or otherwise process the component to the order's exact specifications.

The RFID system consumes 1.5 million high-frequency passive RFID tags annually. The tags are read 20 million times throughout the process. They have a virtually 100 percent accurate read rate, and are durable enough to withstand the high temperatures, pressures and vibrations the components experience during manufacturing.

"Without RFID, Fenestra would have had difficulties in building an automatic make-to-order manufacturing plant," says Ville Kauppinen, CEO of Vilant, the Finnish RFID systems integrator that developed the WIP solution. "The whole plant was rebuilt and automated, largely to enable RFID. The main benefit was full automation and a significant increase in efficiency and lessened need of manpower."
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