There are a couple of ways to think about this. One involves tracking parts from the point at which they are made until they arrive at an automobile manufacturing facility, and the other involves tracking the parts internally, so that they are always at the line when needed.
A couple of years ago, Land Rover, a U.K. division of Ford Motor Co. , worked with the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), a research group at the University of Warwick, in Coventry, to test the use of RFID for tracking containers filled with automotive parts entering the automaker’s assembly plant in the West Midlands, as well as empty containers leaving the factory. The trial found that active tags could be used effectively to track the locations of parts bins as they moved from a suppliers facility to Land Rover’s plant (see Land Rover Test-Drives RFID to Track Parts Containers).
The use of active tags allows a company to track parts bins over a distance of 300 feet or more, so in the Land Rover tests, containers were placed on trucks at the supplier’s facility, and the vehicles were tagged. Once the trucks left the building, it would indicate they were en route to Land Rover. Tagged trucks could be identified at the distribution yard’s gate, and each vehicle could be routed to the proper dock door.
It’s also possible to use passive tags on containers, though the read distance is much shorter (typically, 20 feet or so). Hyundai Motor Co. is leveraging passive RFID technology to track auto parts. The company’s logistics services affiliate, Glovis, headquartered in Seoul, Korea, affixes passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags to corrugated cardboard boxes and packaging cases of automotive parts from five suppliers. Glovis exports the tagged boxes and cases to Hyundai’s factory in Alabama (see Hyundai RFID-enabling Its Supply Chain).
When it comes to tracking parts bins or containers internally, a company can use either active or passive tags. Nissan North America is utilizing an active RFID-based teal-time locating system (RTLS) to help it track inbound automotive parts, as well as new vehicles rolling off the assembly line, at its factory in Canton, Miss. The RFID technology, provided by WhereNet (now part of Zebra Enterprise Solutions), is designed to assist the automaker in expediting vehicle production and improve processes at the 4-million-square-foot assembly plant (see Nissan North America Installs RFID-based Real-Time Locating System).
Car-parts manufacturer Bosch Fahrzeugelektrik, headquartered in Eisenach, Germany, is employing passive RFID transponders in kanban cards to speed its production process and better manage customer orders. Its Eisenach factory produces approximately 18 different parts for cars, including gas pedals, engine speed sensors, accelerator sensor modules, wheel-speed sensors and secondary-air pumps. The firm has outfitted each production line with RFID readers, and has created an application in which the tag, embedded in a paper kanban card assigned to a particular container, is interrogated four times. This enables the firm to track each part’s progress through production (see RFID Kanban System Pays Off for Bosch).
It is also possible to tag individual parts with passive RFID tags, but most companies are not presently doing this.
—Mark Roberti, Editor, RFID Journal
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