The manufacturing sector is in the midst of transforming into Industry 4.0. Information technology saturates every corner of our production, administration, and safety operations. But not all technology is created equal.
What is worth investing in, and what is best left by the wayside? One of the most flexible and reliable services you can use is RFID wireless tracking. It is adaptable to a wide range of use cases and works in practically any manufacturing facility.
Is RFID the right solution for your plant or warehouse? This article explains what RFID is, how RFID tracking can help your business, and how RFID technology in manufacturing is effectively used today.
What is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)?
RFID stands for radio frequency identification, a short-range wireless communication standard commonly used for tracking purposes in manufacturing facilities and warehouses. RFID tags securely transmit their identity and other important data when placed close to scanners—for example, in the consumer world, with tap-to-pay credit cards.
RFID technology in manufacturing is a good choice for asset tracking because it doesn’t conflict with other common business wireless standards. For example, WiFi internet and two-way radios work perfectly fine alongside RFID.
It offers other important benefits too. For example, RFID technology in manufacturing doesn’t require line-of-sight. Signals can pass through wood, plastic, and other common building materials. Scanners can read separate tags inside a scanned toolkit, hard case, or other containers. However, it is important to know that metal reflects RFID signals, so it might not be the best choice in some facilities with many walled metal surfaces.
How Do Warehouse and Manufacturing RFID Key and Asset Tracking Systems Work?
RFID tracking systems are powerful, flexible technologies that manufacturers and shipping and distribution centers can easily customize to the ways they work. They fit neatly into lean manufacturing technology practices by automating and enforcing tight process control over what are otherwise tedious manual tasks.
While installations will differ between facilities with different use cases, RFID tracking systems are always built from a few essential core components: storage cabinets, RFID tags, readers and access terminals, and management software.
RFID tracking systems may be advanced, smart technology, but they must still be built on top of secure, reliable storage cabinets. These hold keys, handheld scanners, toolkits, and other important equipment when those assets aren’t used. In addition, cabinets often include charging ports to ready electronic devices and data cables for fault monitoring.
Advanced tracking system cabinets are modular, meaning you can stack and configure them for different floor plans and use cases. For example, a manufacturing facility may want to track maintenance toolkits and expensive mechanical calibration tools of all different shapes and sizes. Whereas a warehouse may want to charge and ready rows upon rows of identical handheld scanners.
RFID tags power modern tracking systems. Manufacturing facilities use a combination of passive and active RFID tags. Passive tags do not have an onboard battery. Think of the small RFID chips embedded in credit cards. They transmit their identity when someone brings them close to an RFID reader on the exterior of a storage cabinet or distributed throughout your facility.
Active-powered RFID tags with a built-in battery are also available. They have a greater range but are also bulkier and more expensive, making them suitable only for RFID in supply chain management, especially high-value products as they move down your production line.
The tags are usually attached to or embedded in equipment in manufacturing tracking systems. For keys, that typically takes the form of an RFID fob attached to the key ring that doubles as the locking mechanism in the storage cabinet. Tagging varies much more with equipment and kit items. Some electronics, like radios, mobile devices, and handheld scanners, come with embedded RFID tags or a fob slot where you can add one. With other equipment, you need to attach the tag to the exterior.
RFID readers emit a harmless radio signal that bounces off nearby RFID tags when they’re in range. That returns identity data the reader can analyze to track the tagged item’s location and use. These scans take a fraction of a second, and readers can scan multiple tags simultaneously. Most warehouse and manufacturing RFID tracking systems will have a reader mounted on or near the storage cabinets so your staff can scan items as they take or return them.
The access terminal on the front of the storage cabinet is your staff’s primary interface with the RFID tracking system. Users authenticate themselves at the terminal when they want to sign out or return a stored item. In addition, access terminals can utilize one more access control method, such as swipe cards, PIN codes, or biometrics, such as fingerprint, iris eye scan, or facial recognition, for controlling access to especially-important assets.
Advanced tracking systems use touchscreens for access terminals to provide customized checklists. This is one of the key ways RFID in manufacturing can improve process controls. For example, when a technician signs out instruments to repair production equipment, you can prompt them to verify that it is properly calibrated. If they don’t answer, the technician’s supervisor receives an immediate email warning them that the equipment may not be properly repaired. This helps you avoid costly downtime and rework.
Data from the RFID readers, cabinets, and access terminal all flow back to a software management dashboard that production supervisors use to get real-time tracking data on RFID-tagged equipment and keys. Modern software dashboards are designed as web apps. So they’re accessible from any company device, like authorized desktop computers in the plant office or smartphones and tablets down on the floor.
Through the dashboard, your supervisors can receive real-time tracking alerts if keys or equipment are overdue for return. Your supervisors can also generate reports that show them detailed tracking histories so they can help identify meaningful trends you might not see otherwise. That helps you monitor employee performance, ensure accountability, and improve compliance with important industry standards and management best practices.
How Can RFID Tracking Systems Help Manufacturing and Warehouse Operations?
RFID tracking systems improve operations in many important ways.
Use Cases for RFID Tracking Systems at Manufacturing Facilities & Warehouses
Discover the Power of RFID
See how RFID tracking systems work, how they’re used in industry today, and some best practices for adapting them to your organization’s workflows.
Vice President of Marketing