Processes using RFID
Manufacturers know that costly production and sequencing errors can be prevented by carefully tracking components, parts and assemblies throughout the manufacturing process. The difficulty lies in execution. Bar codes provide accurate, efficient identification and can assist with product genealogy data, but bar code symbols are not viable in many common industrial processes. Wireless radio frequency identification (RFID) is an excellent alternative to bar codes, but this technology has traditionally had its own environmental challenges. Most RFID systems are highly sensitive to interference from metal, which has limited RFID use for manufacturing tracking applications.
As manufacturers and technology developers work to solve these challenges, errors continue to mount – costing automotive manufacturers and suppliers $1 million per day to fix, according to research by the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) and AMR Research.
Benefits to Error Proofing
The earlier in the production process that assembly and sequencing errors are detected, the less they cost to correct. The difference in cost-containment for correcting quality issues in the plant compared to in the field is approximately three to one, according to consulting firm BearingPoint. It costs about nine times more to correct a problem via recall than it does to correct it in the plant. Manufacturers and suppliers thus have a clear and strong incentive to create error proofing systems that ensure products and components have been assembled and tested correctly before leaving the plant.
Today automotive manufacturers take up to 120 days to detect and correct most problems, according to AMR, at an average cost of $1 million per day for labor, parts and brand impact. After 120 days, most vehicles are long gone from the factory, necessitating a costly recall, which on average takes 250 days to complete, according to AIAG.
To prevent delays in error detection, manufacturers need to comprehensively identify assemblies and components and verify activity throughout production and material handling processes. Real-time iden- tification systems can prevent many errors altogether, resulting in significant cost avoidance. Manufacturers can leverage their ERP, quality control and manufacturing execution systems with real-time bar code and RFID input to close the loopholes in work-in-process tracking that cause production and sequencing errors.
By collaborating, manufacturers and their suppliers can both improve operations and error proof processes with RFID. Consider engines that are assembled at a supplier facility and shipped to the automotive OEM. The supplier can automate and error proof the outbound logistics as engines move from production to the trains or trucks for shipment. Each engine must be uniquely identified, plus loaded in the proper sequence to support just-in-time production. The serial number and model is typically on the engine’s bar code label, but these symbols are not always convenient to read, especially in unattended material handling operations.
To facilitate efficient, automatic handling, engine serial numbers can be recorded on reusable RFID tags that are permanently applied to the racks used to carry engines through logistics and material handling operations. Standardized tags for open supply chain applications can provide license plate-type identifiers for use by a database application, or they have plenty of memory to encode the individual serial numbers of multiple engines carried on the rack. Durable RFID tags will perform reliably on racks stored outdoors even when exposed to extreme heat, cold, ice and snow. Permanent tags can be rewritten thousands of times as the rack is reused.
Tagging the rack makes it easy to record all material movements and putaway locations accurately and automatically, without bar code scanning or any manual intervention. Racks can be identfied with RFID portals or other fixed-position readers, or with forklift-mounted or other mobile readers. Having accurate location information recorded by RFID and conveyed by wireless LANs also takes much of the time and labor out of locating specific engines for campaigns. Prior to shipping, racks can be automatically read to verify that the specific engines belong with the order and are being loaded in the correct sequence. The data can then be shared with the manufacturer through an EDI message or other communication to support receiving and production planning opera- tions at the manufacturing facility.
The manufacturer also needs to track incoming shipments in the correct sequence order. Tagged racks can be read with forklift-mounted or dock-door readers as soon as they arrive at the facility and matched to an order or shipment notification in a database via a wireless LAN connection. Once identified, items are immediately available for delivery to an assembly station for JIT production or for placement into storage. Again, RFID data collection and wireless LAN connectivity can accurately record all movements and putaway locations. Real-time RFID tracking also improves visibility into inventory, materials and work-in- process.
Racks that are conveyed with material handling systems can be identified with fixed-position RFID readers installed at strategic points throughout the facility. By integrating the RFID readers, material handling system, controllers and software systems, components can be automatically routed to the proper production stations and verified before they are installed, preventing assembly and configuration errors. Error-proofing applications can prevent improper installations by automatically issuing alerts if products are out of sequence.
Database applications can take advantage of RFID read data to build complete product genealogies that store the unique ID and production data for components and assemblies. By accurately and automatically recording the unique serial number of each part and component used in an assembly, manufacturers can quickly identify and find products that need to be reworked or recalled because of component problems. With recalls costing an average of $1 million per day, the ability to quickly pinpoint affected products is extremely valuable and can provide full ROI for the entire RFID system in just one campaign.
An RFID infrastructure created for error proofing can support many additional beneficial operations. These include automated replenishment and kanban signaling, TREAD Act compliance, yard management, cross docking, picking and putaway, inventory management, asset tracking, automatic vehicle locating (AVL), returnable container identification and more.
Technology advances have made RFID a viable tool for detecting and preventing errors in manufacturing, sequencing and logistics processes. RFID is proving itself every day in a variety of challenging industrial environments. For manufacturers who risk millions of dollars in losses due to human errors, the issue is not whether they can afford an RFID driven error proofing system, it is how long they can afford to be without one.
Error Proof Your Manufacturing Process
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