Factories of the Future: Applications for RFID Technology

Ray Galang
October 14, 2016
Topic: Manufacturing

Most innovation experts agree that the wave of the future for manufacturing is integration - IT working with Operations as a seamless partner to getting work done. As IT begins to play a more prominent role in manufacturing, RFID technology becomes a common application in helping things get done not only faster, but also better.

The 2016 Global Industry 4.0 Survey conducted by professional services company PWC sees Industry 4.0 as a wave of the future manufacturers simply cannot ignore. "While Industry 3.0 focused on the automation of single machines and processes, Industry 4.0 focuses on the end-to-end digitization of all physical assets and integration into digital ecosystems with value chain partners." Industry 4.0 hones in on digitalizing processes across the entire organization, challenging the traditional way of integration into an over-arching strategy that touches every level of the production chain. Whereas many current organizations integrate security and technology such as a Human Machine Interface (HMI) that features RFID-enabled security before the programmer can instruct the machine, Industry 4.0 is taking that integration a step further, carrying security and IT integration, as well as true digitalization, throughout the entire manufacturing process from product development, sourcing and manufacturing to distribution.

In fact, first-stage integrators are seeing staggering results. The Huffington Post reported that early adopters of at least partially implemented smart manufacturing, which relies heavily on the foundational technology of The Internet of Things, reported an 82 percent increase in efficiency, 49 percent fewer product defects and a 45 percent increase in customer satisfaction. So how can RFID technology actually improve the integration of Industry 4.0, while helping manufacturers embrace Industry 4.0 with a seamless transition?

Start with what you know

Believe it or not, many organizations already have some of the infrastructure in place to implement integration. For example, most companies already have an employee badge system, often fitted with an RFID chip to perform basic tasks such as unlocking doors or accessing a secured place within the manufacturing plant. But few companies have unlocked the true power of the RFID-enabled employee badge. Low frequency and high frequency RFID technology can be tied to numerous steps of the manufacturing process. Here's how:

Fully optimizing the factory floor

ABC Manufacturing employee Susan Jones arrives to work via the employee shuttle bus. As she steps on, she scans her employee badge at the door, tracking employee usage and verifying access to the bus that will enter the secure campus. Once arriving, she picks up breakfast in the plant's cafeteria, tapping her badge at the checkout reader, which is tied to a cashless payment application. Before heading to her desk, she waves her badge at the time management kiosk to check-in for the day. She heads to her desk, where she waves her badge at the reader connected to her workstation to authenticate access to her computer. She sees that a new shipment of components has arrived which needs her sign-off. At the receiving dock, she taps her badge at the kiosk to verify receipt, tying her credentials to the shipment. Once received, she arranges delivery of the shipment to the production floor, where her colleague, Jeff, brings the components to the automation line. Jeff loads the components, waves his badge at the reader embedded in the HMI for authentication and sets the commands of the factory software to run. At the packaging line, Jeff uses his employee badge to authenticate at the HMI and initiate the controller for the final production steps.  Once packaging is complete, the final product is sent to the warehouse, where forklifts, gates and computer tracking systems all are accessed and monitored via RFID authentication at the Ethernet readers connected to a programmable logic controller.

In a world where accountability is a crucial part of every manufacturing process, RFID technology is touching every facet of an ever-evolving atmosphere. Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing are here to stay. As such, smart integration of technology will become even more relevant as manufacturers turn to technology to make their processes even more seamless.