Smart Manufacturingom Ellinwood | Co-Founder, President

With RF Controls’ it is now practical to tag and monitor the location and movement of lower value, smaller items, in 3D, by the application of relatively inexpensive passive or battery assisted passive (BAP) UHF RFID tags.

Efficient manufacturing environments need to ensure that the right components or materials and the right people with the right tools are in the right place at the right time – the “five rights”. A missing tool or a missing component can dramatically affect the efficiency of production operations.

Not all manufacturing environments operate in a way where there is defined organization of all the elements of a manufacturing process; for example, components stored in a stock room might be loaded onto a cart manually, then transferred (pushed) to the location where those parts are needed. Manual scanning of bar codes might be employed to ensure parts pick accuracy, but if the cart gets mislaid en route or a component goes “missing” from the cart, this could have disastrous consequences to production efficiency if that unexpected activity is not seen until after the event.

Real-time location systems which use battery powered RFID tags (so called “active tags”) have been successfully deployed in facilities such as automotive and aerospace production environments. These are both exemplary environments where all the above “five rights” must be in place concurrently. Yet real-time location systems (RTLS) which use active tags only tackle part of the problem, since it is only practical to attach active tags – which are relatively large and relatively expensive – to large items, such as major airframe components or a vehicle body.

One example of an application of ITCS in manufacturing is in the paper industry, where large rolls of both raw materials and finished goods are moved around a facility, often stored in somewhat arbitrary locations, along with other very similar looking rolls.

This is also true of chemical production plants, where materials such as films are stored in the form of large rolls. The advantages of ITCS offering long read range and 3D zonal monitoring are especially valuable where the objects to be identified, located and tracked are large and pass through wide open spaces or doorways between different locations in the plant; use of a portal system in such instances is sub-optimal.

In situations where active tag RTLS solutions have been deployed, it is feasible to consider that the application software suite already in use could be utilized to provide visibility of data being gathered by ITCS, thus providing a common, integrated view of a wider range of assets and items in inventory.