Where it’s at

Published: September 25th, 2006

Manufacturing is one of the largest industry users of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology today.

Besides identification, what is RFID being used for inside these manufacturing and storage facilities? Here are four ways it can make a difference in your warehouse:

  • Work in process: RFID can give companies the ability to track products they’re currently manufacturing during the different phases of their development. This helps during production, so they know how far along each item is, and it lets them gauge how long processes — and by extension, employees — are taking. It also provides an opportunity for companies to assess the efficiency of these processes, by allowing management to look at precise data on any given product being produced on any given day. Another key of RFID tags (or chips) is their ability to work in very harsh or rugged environments, including those with extreme temperatures or dirty conditions, common in warehouses.
  • Asset tracking: If you have valuable assets, you’ll want to know where they are at all times. RFID tags can be put on these assets to provide better visibility, says Bob Moroz, president of Toronto-based R. Moroz Ltd. “A lot of manufacturers are probably carrying products on specialty pallets, totes or equipment, so that’s certainly another big part of it, being able to embed an RFID transponder within the asset and be able to identify it for the life of the product,” Moroz says.
  • Maintenance: Most firms are in the early stages when it comes to using RFID to perform maintenance. However, if they’re able to tie the equipment operation and usage to an actual identification tag they can set preventive maintenance tasks based on equipment usage. “One of the things that RFID will do is it will lead to the next level of automation,” says Moroz. “So if I’m a manufacturer and I have manufacturing equipment, whether it’s stamping equipment or whatever, the performance of the equipment may not be dependant strictly on the output or the usage. It may be dependant on the usage and also the temperature.” So if the equipment is being used during a peak time, because of the temperature generated by the equipment it may wear faster than during normal usage. If it’s expensive equipment it could be extremely important to be aware of this added stress. Also, since RFID technology communicates wirelessly, battery assisted technologies are emerging which allow users to install sensors in certain pieces of equipment especially if they are in difficult-to-reach or remote locations. The sensors can then monitor and track usage and temperature, or whatever other conditions will provide a better representation of the condition or state of the equipment.
  • Security and access: These tie in to access control, and are about making sure your products move about only in the specific areas they’re supposed to. This type of tracking may also include keeping an eye on the movements of people, or at least the forklifts or trucks they are spending their days working on.

Bob Moroz is president of R. Moroz Ltd. which integrates systems and distributes bar coding and RFID technologies

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