Discover modern manufacturing. Industrie 4.0 enables cyber-physical communication that’s faster and less error-prone. One key ingredient is RFID, which delivers the data granularity vital to identifying efficiencies, boosting agility and reducing costs.
Author: Carl Michener
The problem with most modern manufacturing environments is that
things don't talk to each other. Decision-making is centralized and
human-driven, which adds error and reduces speed. Companies like
Siemens are changing this reality with Industrie 4.0, a movement to
unify physical and cyber-physical systems with the Internets of
Things and Services. The desired end result is smart, agile
manufacturing environments in which cyber-physical systems perform
tasks autonomously, diagnosing and making adjustments as needed. In
such facilities, information is shared in real time between
cyber-physical systems and humans, ideally both internally and with
It's a big job. Developing smart systems that self-diagnose and
communicate with each other in real time demands universal
standards that apply to many different practices and applications.
Industry players like Siemens and Bosch are hard at work putting
those very standards together. One constant in such environments is
RFID-a technology that brings real world advantages to IT
"Modern systems will create a digital twin of a product, of a
plan, of everything that needs to happen system-wise," explains
Markus Weinländer, Head of Product Management for SIMATIC
Communication Products at Siemens' Process Industries and Drives
Division. "But of course there is always discrepancy between an
ideal digital print and what is happening on the shop floor."
Weinländer explains how RFID is used to synchronize the ideal
scenario with reality-by finding discrepancies through tracking.
"Manufacturing environments with IT systems, especially those that
take big data approaches, need to collect information automatically
and synchronize plans with what's happening on the factory floor."
RFID performs several functions in this respect: collecting
sufficiently detailed data to enable analysis and prediction, and
making sure that reality jibes with that prediction. "The more
information you have in the cloud," continues Weinländer, "the
greater the need for synchronization in factories."
Tracking supplies, equipment, inventory and the evolution of a
finished product forms a big part of ensuring efficiency. Imagine a
complex manufacturing environment-aerospace for example-in which
there are 10,000 distinct component SKUs, yet there is never a
shortage in supply and consequently no work stoppages. Each work
area, tens of square metres in size, is replenished as soon as
available components reach a minimum number. As RFID tags are read
and machining specs change, machines adjust automatically to
exactly match the new specs. Such scenarios are possible because
RFID inputs have evolved from fixed readers to networked fixed
readers, and then to networked area readers.
"This is happening now-it's not new news," says Atte Kaskihalme,
Business Area Director for Nordic ID. "We have reached the stage
where you can track everything all along its journey through a
manufacturing environment, from components to finished products,
from tools to uniforms and containers."
Some companies are using RFID's tracking abilities to provide
value-added services. A European uniform rental company, for
instance, leverages RFID to offer a paid on-premise security
checking service that ensures all of their customers' workers end
up with the right gear every day.
Kaskihalme likens what's happening in RFID to telecom. First
there were fixed systems. Then the Internet came to public
telephone networks, closely followed by local private networks,
which became VOiP-enabled. Now Europe and other jurisdictions are
approaching a uniform VoIP-based system. As that has happened, the
role of the telcos has changed. They are no longer selling and
installing PBXs or sending workers out to make moves, adds or
changes. Now they mostly just sell services.
RFID is moving in the same direction. In the early days,
separate readers were connected to local systems. Then fixed and
mobile readers began to share the same network, talk the same
language, collect data together and provide complete visibility.
"Where we see the industry moving next," predicts Kaskihalme, "is
into value-added data analytics services." In this nascent Internet
of RFID readers or 'IoRFID', pre-filtering and analysing all this
data can add tremendous value to a manufacturing environment.
Remotely controlled fixed reader networks, supplemented with data
from handheld readers, can deliver use case-specific data via
cloud-based services to help increase efficiency, build added
agility or predict future needs.
Much of this data comes from information written onto component
tags during their journey, but it can also come from tag-based
sensors. Sensors are used in many different industries to measure
movement, temperature, humidity, moisture and other parameters. In
a home care situation, a nurse or caregiver can tell if an adult
diaper is wet, and in a testing environment a Mercedes-Benz
engineer can tell if the newest SL model prototype has too much
water ingress at the bottom of the door seal.
No sector is approaching Industrie 4.0 as quickly as the German
automotive sector. Placing RFID sensors throughout vehicle
assemblies to detect water ingress has become a standard part of
testing, but that's only a small part of the story. Danny
Collinson, who heads up sales in Germany for Nordic ID, is
witnessing first-hand what is possible. "What we are seeing is that
all automotive manufacturers in Germany are quickly moving to
adopting the same set of standards. This is translating into
processes that are smoother, faster and less error-prone than ever
Danny explains that when a car manufacturer receives prototype
parts from a supplier, almost every part comes with an RFID tag.
During testing, engineers know right away where each part of an
assembly was built, when it was received and when it was assembled
into the vehicle. This serialisation reduces error and increases
turnaround speed by enabling engineers to communicate to the
supplier very precisely regarding modifications that are required.
Since all manufacturers subscribe to the same standards, all
suppliers can rise to a high level of sophistication with one
technology set, instead of investing in multiple systems to serve
the needs of multiple suppliers.
Other manufacturing environments may not have reached the point
where they can leverage RFID data to a very high degree-either for
efficiency or analysis-but the possibility is there, especially in
the provision of curated big data. With the advent of IoRFID,
providing added value through data analysis is without a doubt the
direction that the RFID world is heading.
The ultimate evolution of IoRFID could be RaaS, or
RFID-as-a-service. Imagine subscribing to an RFID solution that
comes with supplier-driven, bespoke installation and setup; a
prescribed equipment evolution path; and service level agreements.
Your custom dashboard shows real time metrics of all kinds, while
powerful, cloud-based analytics enable you to produce reports that
identify efficiencies that will increase speed, boost agility and
drive down costs.
Left: Atte Kaskihalme, Business
Area Director (Logistics & Manufacturing) of Nordic ID
Collinson, Area Sales Manager (Logistics & Manufacturing
for Germany, Austria, Switzerland) of Nordic ID
Weinländer, Head of Product Management for SIMATIC Communication
Products at Siemens' Process Industries and Drives Division,
Siemens AG Industry