RFID in Manufacturing

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Technology uses radio wave communication system to exchange information between a tag and a reader. This helps in identification and tracking purposes. There is no need of manual contact with a reader nor is there a necessity to be in the line of sight of the reader in RFID. RFID enables the user to store information which can be further relayed .

For the manufacturing industry, RFID has become an essential tool that lets the manufacturers see the whole process in real-time. RFID helps in reporting deviations and faults to any process in which RFID is applied. RFID has helped the companies build an efficient and authenticated system. By procuring a mistakes free application resulting in fewer manufacturing errors it prevents wrong parts used or wrong specification settings during manufacturing of an object.

Therefore through RFID, Manufacturers can not only reduce their operating and labor costs, they also helps in increasing profits through increasing well-organized tracking and inventory. Users of RFID in manufacturing industry can also use RFID tag information to determine product features, date of manufacture and inventory related information.

Benefits of using RFID in Manufacturing

  • Inventory and product estimation : Through the tracking of products and equipment, the RFID databases help in regulating the inventory of the manufacturing unit. Those companies which have a better forecasting are bound to have a lesser and more accurate inventory (by 15%). Thereby through real time tracking RFID provides a better forecasting which is highly beneficial for the industry.
  • Having item information on the RFID tag : RFID helps in assigning information to each and every product. This is rfid in manufacturingespecially useful for complex product lines, eliminating the need for separate databases on assembly status and product contents.
  • Automatic System : RFIDs can automatically identify and detect the various tags required. There is minimal need of labor and the databases are automatically created and stored through RFID.
  • Ability to track at the item level : RFID provides a major benefit through their ability to track items at the most singular level. When there are errors detected, the ability to track at the item level helps in improving the quality of the manufacturing process. This adds to the efficiency factor.
  • Improve Efficiency and provides Durability : There is no need of having any manual input or swapping for a RFID system. The technology helps in making the whole process easy to operate and proficient to be checked. Through providing information about the product, RFIDs help the user in determining the inventory levels and stocks available efficiently. RFID systems have the ability to be last longer with the tags and readers having the capability to survive through harsh environments. In events of manufacturing in which the article goes through various packaging levels, tags are unharmed. RFID systems on the whole have greater life spans than the bar code systems.
  • Flexible : RFID tags can be read through a much longer distance than other identification technologies. RFID tags have storage capacity much more than an average barcode. Some of the active RFID tags are re-writable.
  • Cost and return on investment : Though RFIDs are seen largely as a costly innovative technology, the return on investment for the technology makes it viable and useful. The cost of implementing RFID technology is also decreasing with time with more and more service providers coming in the fray.
  • Speeds up other related processes : RFID technology allow working for a number of tags which can be done at multiple tags at a time. For example, a load of 100 variable items each with a RFID tracing tag can be identified at once without having to break the pallet down.
  • Helps in improving the quality of Products : RFID works in resonance with Quality check techniques like Six Sigma. Six-Sigma helps in improving the quality of outputs through identification and removing of the causes of defects. RFID lets a company identify and locate the various qualities rated products.

Limitations and issues while using RFID in manufacturing

Major limitations of RFID in manufacturing have been those of related to technical glitches, high cost and reusability issues. 
Manufacturing Industry has to deal with RFID systems on a large scale. There is little room for errors in  performance as some small error is magnified on the large scale. RFID mostly lives up to all the expectations though manufacturers are still skeptics in matters related to the same.

The following are major Limitations and the reasons behind such limitations:

  • Implementation Issues and technical difficulties : Problems related to the RFID readers may lead to inaccurate reading and therefore wrong productions. Accuracy is an important property for RFID readers in Manufacturers. There can be problems like collision of tags, setting of multiple readers, or persistence of tags no longer of use. This can lead to inefficiency in manufacturing. Further jamming of reader networks can lead to time loss and decreasing productivity. 
  • Developing stages of RFID : Demand of RFID is scarce. The cost issue arises due to this low demand problem. There is further hesitation in implementing it doe to lower usage by others with the installing costs being high. The Manufacturing Industry needs the RFID tags and readers in a substantial number for the covering of the whole area. The cost of Active Tags generally costs 25$ and above. Low and High Frequency tags cost a little higher. Passive Tags costs as low as 15 cents in which only a bar code is printed. Therefore there is a prevailing reluctance in using this technology.
  • Reusability problem : RFID tags are non-reusable when a tag is to be used for a different tracking purpose or by a different RFID system. The tag is also rendered non-reusable if it is to be used for an active process rather than a passive or vice versa. The total money spent for RFID is thus based on volumes and reusability.
  • Security concerns : Another limitation of RFID is the fact that the device can be intercepted easily. Since RFID is used for forecasting and inventory measures, it is especially important to have a secure database. For most RFIDs the tags can be read by anyone who possesses a reader.  Therefore it is fairly manageable to hack into the information of the tag and disturb the information.

How Manufacturing industry is using RFID Today : Case Studies

Wells’ Dairy

Wells’ Dairy is a manufacturing company that supplies dairy products to various retail outlets. The company has its largest manufacturing facility in Le Mars, Iowa.

The plant in Iowa has been named by the industry experts as the most technologically advanced plant in the manufacturing industry.
The plant works on automated line for 160 hours a week and has a blend of developing and tested technology.
The wells’ dairy recognized the potential of RFID in early 2006. It started using RFID for improving its manufacturing operations.
Wells used RFID to provide visibility to its services which led to improve in supply chains as well as the production process.
Wells’ Dairy also accessed the RFID databases for a better management of their production levels and inventory.

Griva S.p.A based in Torino, Italy

The textile manufacturing is considered to be a specialized manufacturing business. There are various phases of production in textiles. At the time of manufacturing there is a need for high levels of efficiency in using raw materials and managing inventory.
Griva S.p.A is one such manufacturer which makes around 300,000 rolls of fabric each year. These manufactured fabrics are then send to European markets.

With diversification in fabrics and raw materials, the textile manufacturers craved for high inventory control. Also tracking of rolls which underwent various harsh procedures was required. After years of using traditional bar-coding, in 2006 the manufacturers started using RFID through collaboration with Simet, an RFID integrator.

This proved to be a good call as RFID was able to guarantee traceability of rolls during all phases of manufacturing. RFID also helped in automatic sorting of products into the warehouse. With readers at various points, the staff could take the decision of whether the goods need to go through to the storage facility or to shipments. There were reduced expenses, time and improved customer satisfaction. Griva has already gone for more readers and inclusion of RFID in other manufacturing units.

Summing it all up ..

The process of manufacturing needs to be as efficient as possible.  Globalization, increment in competition and Economic pressures makes it important for manufacturing industry to reduce labor costs, increase asset utilization and reduce material costs. 
Also the customers' needs are expanding with demands for faster and efficient delivery, adapted produces and better service.  In manufacturing environments, RFID applications has the required benefits to provide all the above. RFID in manufacturing environments has improved many tracking applications including work-in-process, tools, parts bins, returnable transport containers, finished goods inventory, and much more.

Some of the companies using RFID for manufacturing are companies like Southern Index, William Frick and co, Wells’ Dairy, Vision Mark and Front web Incorporated. Some of the makers of RFID systems specifically for manufacturing processes are- Arizon RFID technology, Databac Group, System Label and the Tag factory(TTF), etc.