Intelligent RFID technology closes gaps in the automotive supply chain

The automotive industry takes advantage of tailor-made solutions for the
automated identification of objects in virtually every process in the
production and supply chain. Radio frequency identification or RFID has been
used successfully for many years in practical applications to optimise the
efficiency of processes in production. Based on these positive experiences,
RFID technology is recommended for other applications in both upstream and
downstream production processes.

Intelligent RFID systems such as those supplied by SICK also find use in
applications involving inbound logistics between supplier and OEMs as well as
in downstream distribution processes. RFID technology can close gaps in the supply
chain.

The use of RFID technology by German OEMs in the automotive industry is
already well advanced. Oliver Huther, RFID Business Development Manager at SICK
Vertriebs-GmbH says they have been involved in thousands of UHF (ultra high
frequency) RFID installations, providing support and assistance with their sensor
knowhow. UHF RFID hardware by SICK is used by various OEMs to control their
production processes. However, their systems continue to be used even after a
vehicle has left the assembly line with RFID used in distribution to ensure
that vehicles are loaded and shipped correctly to dealers all over the world. SICK’s
RFID technology also makes it easier to locate vehicles that have been put into
temporary storage, should rework need to be carried out.

Closing gaps at both
ends of production

RFID has been used by some OEMs to close gaps between production and
distribution not only in initial projects but also in applications that have
already been implemented. According to Huther, they have observed a rapid
increase in comparable activities on the other side of production such as in inbound
processes. In these activities, the bar code dominates data exchange between the
supplier and OEM. While RFID based on continuously advancing sensor technology is
bringing benefits to the processes from supplier to manufacturer, its use is also
set to increase at this point of the added-value chain in the automotive industry.

Interleaving of
suppliers and OEMs

The more customised the assembly of the individual devices that make up
a vehicle, the more customised is production. Andreas Behrens, Head of
Marketing & Sales Barcode – RFID – Vision at SICK AG explains that making
it easier for customers to configure their vehicles goes hand in hand with
greater individualisation on the production line. Innovative technological
solutions must combine with intelligent systems to assist companies in managing
the increasing complexity. One of the possible technologies is RFID, as it is
able to respond to the questions that arise from a production process, which is
increasingly based on individual orders, right down to the individual parts.
Suppliers and OEMs must brace themselves for these challenges, ideally by
deploying systems that can be used across companies in all stages of the
process and thereby increasing efficiency.

If a technology
makes sense, it will be deployed

RFID technology can be found in an incredibly wide range of applications
in the automotive industry. Huther explains that the possibilities it is
opening up are too wide and varied to single out just one process. Today’s OEMs
and suppliers apply labels and markings to all manner of individual parts, assemblies,
and load carriers. Instead of questioning whether an object is easy or
difficult to label or mark, Huther believes one needs to ask how complexity can
be reduced and transparency increased in processes. However, ultimately,
customers always decide which identification technology is most likely to
optimise their processes by weighing up costs against benefits. SICK offers
advice to customers independent of the technology.

Flexibility in terms
of the selection of technology to secure future viability

According to Huther, companies are often more interested in the solution
that meets their requirements than they are in the technology. It is for this
reason that identification solutions from SICK feature uniform connectivity, an
identical user interface, and a uniform accessory concept. With SICK’s 4Dpro
auto ID platform, it really doesn’t matter if the identification data is
acquired from an RFID read/write device or by scanning a 1D or 2D bar code. This
independence in terms of the selection of technology also future-proofs the systems
used. If a company uses a bar code scanner and in future, wishes to switch to an
RFID read/write device to perform the same task, the acquisition devices can
simply be swapped without needing to adapt the existing system. These
capabilities mean that a reliable business case can be formulated in virtually
any process with the appropriate technology.

Intelligent RFID
solutions with Industry 4.0 potential

Supply chain integration in the automotive industry across companies offers
extensive and as yet untapped potential for the use of RFID technology. According
to Huther, if developments in the context of Industry 4.0 mean that more
extensive automation and communication between all of the companies involved in
a production process are the order of the day, there couldn’t be a better match
than RFID. It’s a technology that is suitable for universal use, allowing objects
with labels to be detected both individually and in bulk, depending on
requirements.

He points out that RFID adds value in all crucial processes, regardless
of whether objects are to be detected as single parts or on load carriers in
open cycles between suppliers and OEMs. SICK has invested heavily in research
into the development of their read/write devices. SICK’s know-how is at work,
for example, in systems that enable specific information to be assigned to a
tag in a bulk read operation. Numerous factors that would have prevented the
use of RFID just a few years ago are no longer an obstacle. When working with
today’s RFID hardware, reflection and false-positive reads are no longer a
reason not to use RFID.

For Behrens, these challenges have already been overcome by the R&D department
at SICK with read/write devices featuring intelligent functions integrated into
comprehensive end-to-end systems with communication capabilities. Intelligent
read/write devices by SICK are capable of generating high-resolution feedback data
from measured data for transfer via an interface to appropriate software where
it can then be visualised.

Feasibility studies
and simulations

In order to provide OEMs and suppliers who are planning to use RFID technology
with relevant information to assist their decision-making processes, SICK will thoroughly
assess feasibility ahead of a project with their technology centres assisting
them with feasibility studies under real conditions. Tests can also be set up on
customer sites and simulations can supplement the analysis data obtained from
the process.

According to Behrens, tests and simulations make it possible to produce
reliable results so that a business case can be assessed. They also provide
clear evidence of the added value that can be expected. Once a decision has
been made to rollout the technology, SICK will provide support during
commissioning and fine-tuning as well as for training the employees who will
look after the system.

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