Product manufacturers often create lots of data about their products as they move through the assembly line to make sure any defects are tracked and that the system is flowing smoothly, with parts going to the right stations in the right condition. But that creates a complex network that's difficult to maintain, says Greg Edds, manager of global operations at Hewlett-Packard. Worse, if the network gets overloaded or goes down, the whole assembly line is stalled.
That's why HP is implementing the new RFID Generation 2 tags and readers in its Brazil printer plant. (Gen2 tags can be read by multiple brands of readers and can store more information than can earlier-generation tags.) Rather than wire each station to the network, HP has deployed devices that can read an RFID tag affixed to a unit under construction to get its history and status and then write the updated status to the tag as the part moves on to the next station.
"The only network connection is to the last station on the line to upload the complete history of the product for final production tracking and historical analysis," Edds says. "So the server infrastructure can be reduced. In case of network loss, the results can be stored locally until the network is back up, which eliminates any factory disruption."
Edds expects the RFID approach to reduce network management costs and make the assembly line more efficient, although he won't reveal estimated savings. HP is also using RFID readers elsewhere in its production facilities to meet mandates by several of its retailers that all product boxes have RFID tags. For example, at its Memphis, Tenn., scanner and printer assembly plant, HP tags product boxes and pallets to monitor their location in both the production facility and warehouses. That's particularly important for HP because several subcontractors work on premises, so HP needs to record when products leave the subcontractors' ownership and become owned -- and thus paid for -- by HP. HP's experience with this more traditional use of RFID gave the company the comfort level to pilot the asset management project at the Brazil factory, Edds says.
Social Security Administration rejuvenates asset management
The Social Security Administration frequently takes inventory of its office equipment to make sure taxpayer-paid resources remain accounted for. In the past, the agency's auditors would scan bar-code labels on each piece of equipment, which is a slow process because the bar codes first had to be located on the equipment. But now, having become comfortable with the technology in its warehouses, the agency's logistics group uses RFID tags, says Gary Orem, the group's project manager.