Automotive manufacturing has a history of leading factory automation innovation and the recent trend to adopt ultra-high frequency (UHF) RFID is the latest example. For decades, factory automation has evolved from straightforward mechanized tasks that were previously done by hand, through the revolutionary phase of robots with highly configurable control systems implemented with computers and programmable industrial controllers (PLC), to the widespread automation of data collection and real time processing needed to implement modern processes like lean manufacturing or just in time manufacturing.
Bar codes have enabled automatic data collection which has led to enormous efficiency gains for both supply chain and assembly line processes; however, bar codes require line of sight, short read distances and they are hard to use on fabricated metal parts. High frequency (HF) RFID also poses limitations of very short read distance which makes it an impractical choice for use on large assemblies and body panels. UHF RFID is currently being adopted by automotive manufacturers in areas where bar codes and HF RFID just don’t work, and other manufacturing segments will likely follow.
UHF RFID Tracks Automotive Body Panels
Recent news coverage noted automotive manufacturing plants in Germany and the USA using UHF RFID on assembly lines for WIP (work in progress) tracking of fabricated metal parts (body panels). SICK readers are used at a Mercedes-Benz plant in Germany and Turck readers are used in USA factories.
Turck promoted the use of UHF RFID to track automotive body panels in their booth at RFID Journal Live in Orlando earlier this month, which is also evidence that UHF RFID is gaining interest in industrial automation. Body panels are usually large in size and subjected to harsh conditions that make it difficult to use bar codes or HF RFID for automatic data collection. Durable UHF tags can operate through acid washes, paint and high temperature baking; these tags can also be read several meters without line of sight, which enables automatic data collection at every process step on a production line. This visibility is critical to “lean” or “just in time” manufacturing processes especially on automotive production lines because of the process complexity and high SKU count. UHF Gen2 RFID is the only practical technology that can provide end-to-end automatic data collection for WIP tracking and real time processing on automotive production lines.
UHF Gen2 RFID is likely to have a long-term home in automotive manufacturing due to the obvious value that the technology is bringing to the industry. The automotive industry has traditionally led in manufacturing innovation, so watch for UHF RFID to quickly expand into other industrial manufacturing sectors.
Come back soon to read more about the rapid adoption of UHF RFID in other areas of automotive manufacturing, particularly in tracking RTI containers (returnable transport items).