RFID Opens the Door to Automation at Pandoor

By Claire Swedberg

The Israeli door manufacturer is affixing passive UHF tags to the wood planks it uses to make its products, employing RFID data to instruct the automatic manufacturing process.

Israeli company Pandoor Doors is expanding a radio frequency identification system that it had deployed last year to automate the crafting of custom doors for its customers. By applying tags, provided by global packaging and RFID label company Tadbik, to the wooden planks that become custom-made doors, and by deploying RFID readers at the conveyors, the company can then automatically inform its robotic system regarding which processes to carry out in order to meet each customer's requirements.

Pandoor, the largest interior door manufacturer in Israel, describes itself as one of the world's largest manufacturers of Italian-style doors. Since 2002, the company has been designing and building Italian-style interior doors at a facility in Israel. The firm allows each customer to select various options—including the model, colors, glass and fittings—to create a door that suits that individual's home or building and budget. Options include 17 colors, 13 sizes and three height options, as well as variations of decoration combinations. In addition, it began offering its Unique line of water-resistant doors and frames made from polymeric materials, rather than wood, in 2011.

A robotic arm picks up an unfinished wood plank and places it on one of the conveyors, where a Feig RFID reader captures the plank's tag ID number.

In the past, workers had to manually set computer-controlled cutting machines known as computer numerical control (CNC) routers, which make grooves in the wood. Operators chose the proper router settings for each door being produced. In 2013, however, the company opened a new automated factory in Kiryat Gat, says Anatoly Vays, Pandoor's VP of production. By shifting the manufacturing to an automated system, he explains, the firm sought to better accommodate the large number of orders in a timely manner. Manual labor not only slowed production, he explains, but also exposed the company to the potential for errors.

To enable the automation, Pandoor created software to manage data related to each order, which employs RFID to identify a particular order as the pre-fabricated door approaches the router, which can then change its settings according to that order. "It was clear that RFID will be part of the new automated factory," Vays says, so the company designed the software to manage RFID-based data. It then installed readers, beginning with a few at the automated routers, though it is now expanding their use to the paint area as well.

The company tested several readers, and then contacted Tadbik to request RFID labels that would suit the application's requirements. Tadbik chose a plastic-based label with a strong adhesive that would still pull away from the door without leaving a mark once production was complete, explains Michal Yanuv Max, the sales and marketing manager of Tadbik's RFID division. Each label contains a Smartrac ShortDipole tag with an Impinj Monza 4QT chip encoded with a unique ID number associated with the customer who ordered that door. The label also stores details about the design requirements, including what other components will be needed, such as screws, hinges and glass.

When Pandoor wanted to apply narrow RFID labels to some of its products, Max says, the company encountered a problem with the printer that it used for encoding. The printer had limitations in the pitch it could accommodate, and did not encode narrow labels. Tadbik, Max says, devised a solution involving a type of label that accommodates two die-cut sizes. This allows Pandoor to use the same printer to encode and print the label, either in narrow or wide format.

Pandoor's Anatoly Vays

"At the original factory," Vays states, "the work was done manually, including the painting, but since moving to the Kiryat Gat factory, all work is done automatically."

The factory has RFID-enabled two production lines for the routing and customization of doors. When an order is received, an Intermec RFID printer encodes an RFID label with a unique ID number and data regarding that order, including instructions for the automated router. Staff members affix the label to the wooden plank that will be used to make the ordered door. A stack of tagged planks are then moved to the RFID-enabled production lines, where a robotic arm picks up an unfinished piece of wood from the stack and places it onto a conveyor, which moves that plank to a routing machine.

A Feig Electronics MRU 200 reader, installed alongside the conveyor, captures each tag's ID and forwards that information to the RFID software, and then to the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, thereby updating the order's status. The door specifications are also forwarded to the router. Vays developed the RFID software and worked with each router company's engineer, along with Feig's RFID reader engineer, to ensure that the RFID data seamlessly integrates with the ERP system—which, in turn, communicates with the router system.

At the same time that the tag is being read, the reader encodes new data to the tag, indicating that the door is about to undergo the routing process, as well as when this will occur. In that way, an additional reader can interrogate the door's tag at a later date in order to confirm which manufacturing processes it has undergone, and to make sure that all work had been completed.

"The main benefit was the growth of production," Vays says. "The machine operator doesn't intervene primarily in the customization." The RFID-enabled automation, he adds, saves time and reduces the potential for human errors. Such mistakes could include the incorrect attachment of components such as screws, hinges or lintels, as well as the cutting of incorrect patterns.

Tadbik's Michal Yanuv Max

The company recently installed a third reader at its UV painting line, so that the automated system can detect each door and adjust the paint machinery to provide the color and type of paint requested for that order.

During the next phase of the project, which is set to go live by the end of 2015, Pandoor intends to use the RFID data with readers installed at its warehouse for the purpose of inventory management. Also slated to go live by the end of next year is the installation of readers near dock doors, to automatically document when goods enter the warehouse or are loaded onto vehicles. This will enable Pandoor to provide customers with automated services, such as advance shipping notices. The firm intends to use a total of 15 readers.

The system will allow the company to continue to expand its production. "The factory already services the population in Israel and some export worldwide," Vays says, "and still manufactures only about one-third of its potential capacity."