In an APICS Magazine article entitled “RFID at Work” three PhD’s who serve day jobs as computer professors and consultants detail many of the requirements for implementing Radio Frequency ID systems in manufacturing. While you can find the full article (if you’re an APICS member) in the Sep/Oct 2015 issue, we thought we’d reprise for our readers here the key steps to implementation. What follows assumes that you’ve already parsed through the thought process about whether RFID is right for you when it comes to having more accurate and timely information to improve your business processes.
The basic element of any RFID system is the data point – the location where the RFID ‘tag’ is read. It can be used to receive goods and follow work in process along its route according to the ERP system, tracking progress across all work centers or locations.
The key initial step then is simply to identify the key issues and goals of the system, and follow those with a set of design principles. Look for the logical and technical process requirements that must be logged or acted upon, as well any constraints. From these, a prototype can be implemented.
In a typical manufacturing environment, the tag will contain fields including the order number, the finished good ID or product number and the route step identifiers that establish the sequence of work center operations.
Most low-cost tags have relatively limited memory (512 bits), minimal enough at these price points that it requires that the data is produced while moving the tag from one station to the next in the route while interactively obtaining deeper data from a traveler, route ticket or work order already in the ERP system.
Each work center is monitored by data readers with antenna(s) mounted above the shop floor. Typically, the reader will read any RFID tag that comes within about a ten foot radius of itself.
In such a setting, data points would be equipped with touch screen monitors displaying WIP tags in the queue. At the exit point from production, a tag bearing the product ID number is attached to the product before being moved to inventory, shipping or secondary operation areas. The tag is read at this point and that information can be transferred back into the ERP system, thus completing the loop.
The info provided above is intended of course only as a general outline of RFID. A system requires all the “layers” to work together in order to make the tracking of goods more efficient. Those layers include the physical RFID network consisting of tags, antennas, readers, touch screens, and the shop floor network. The second layer is usually the ‘middleware,’ responsible for producing your tag ID numbers, reading and writing to the tags, and managing data transfer from data point to reader and then to the network’s control system. The point is: there is a fair amount of work involved, as one might expect.
Hopefully, our comments here today, courtesy of our friends at APICS, will get you started in your thinking down the road to RFID.