| Written by Christian Aadal
Digitisation in the automotive industry can eliminate waste and idle time helping to boost productivity and efficiency in a manufacturing environment.
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Digitisation is the magic word in many industries these days. Especially in the automotive industry. Car manufacturers are constantly looking for solutions to improve their processes (like locating vehicles in the production yard). Improvements in these processes include higher efficiency and productivity, more transparency and, of course, higher profits.
In many areas of the automotive industry, digitisation has arrived. Modern IT infrastructures and technologies like barcodes or RFID seem top of mind. Those technologies made their way into production, warehouses and logistics. However, there are more challenges to be found in the automotive industry. So let's have a closer look into one of these areas: the process of building a pressing tool.
The main challenge is to reduce manual processes as much as possible. The ingredients of the processes are machines, materials and labour. At the very beginning of the process, the raw materials must be ordered. After having received the shipment, the material will be put on stock. This is usually done by using barcodes. Material will be scanned, and the shipment will be added automatically to the stock in the customer´s ERP or Production Management System. If the shipment is complete – fine. If not, a manual process starts including contact to the supplier, checking the material again or even more steps. Having all the required material on-site, the production of a pressing tool can be started. Carrier and material will be put in place and the actual work may start. Well, can the worker be sure that he has the right box of material on-site? Does he start his work at the right tool carrier? All this information must be checked manually before starting the building process. At this point of production, only basic information and data on the project status is available in the ERP or Production Management System. Information that could help speed up processes and make them more transparent. After finishing this first task, the carrier must be released for the next step and must be moved to another site for final testing and approval. The finished pressing tool will then be handed over to serial production. No surprise that these last steps in the process are manual ones, too.
A solution, combining RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) and RTLS (Real Time Locating System) technology can add many benefits to the customer's process management. The main idea of using wireless technologies is to eliminate manual work. Manual work always has a certain insecurity. Whether a wrong material box has been scanned or the selected tool carrier was not the correct one.
Let's start our tour through the wireless world at the ordering stage. The supplier of the material will be equipped with an RFID/RTLS transponder (or tag) which can communicate wirelessly with other devices and should also have the option to store some data in its internal data storage. Why is it necessary to have a data storage? The idea is that the supplier should store the shipment data on the transponder while preparing the shipment. Each screw, each washer, each metal part. If the shipment contains bigger parts each part can be equipped with a transponder.(Further reading: RFID for asset tracking)
Once the shipment enters the customer´s site the transponder can be detected by an RFID gate and the data will be sent immediately to the customer’s ERP software. Deficiencies or wrong deliveries can easily be detected, and the appropriate action will be initiated automatically by the ERP software. The material trolleys will then be moved to the tool carrier or will be put on stock. Each trolley still contains the transponder and since the transponder uses active RFID it sends its ID in predefined time intervals. The exact position of the trolley can be determined by using RTLS technology. A clear association of tool carrier and material trolley can be made now. Of course, each movement of carrier and/or trolley will be detected and can be made visible on a Client PC as well as on the Server. Simply said: See RTLS as an asset tracking system.
Extended reading: Real-time locating system and industry 4.0
There is no unique definition of an RTLS solution. All those solutions use dedicated hardware and software to determine the position of an object in real time in a predefined area usually by analysing the communication between transponder and receiver. Sounds simple but in fact it is a quite complex task. You can find diverse approaches – like different frequencies - to achieve a certain desired accuracy in a given environment. Not all of them are suitable for an Automotive environment. When selecting a solution many topics need to be considered. What might be important? Depending on the environment devices should be rugged and sealed against the elements. The transponder´s battery should have a high battery lifetime and the replacement of the battery should be easy. And if you think about future the solution also should be scalable to be prepared for further extensions.
There is no one-size-fits-all RFID/RTLS solution for automotive tool shops. Each customer has certain requirements for such a solution.
Many factors have to be considered and looked at:
But also have a look at these criteria:
The expectations are quite universal, independent of how the final solution will look. In a nutshell, it is all about achieving higher efficiency and transparency, which should result in faster processes, higher quality, higher transparency and ultimately, higher profit. Read more about the 14 things to consider when implementing a Real Time Location System.