11 Aug 2015 - Maria Verson

Industry 4.0: Connecting Machines and Products to the Internet of Things for Smart Manufacturing

In traditional manufacturing, both simple and complex product assembly lines require human interaction for success. These interactions include monitoring part inventory levels, ensuring machines are maintained, and identifying possible process improvements. By leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) and placing RAIN RFID tags and readers on both products and machines, manufacturers can enable Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0.– the term coined for smart factories where physical processes are machine monitored and machines and products communicate and work together, with humans, in real time. Industry 4.0 also enables data streams to be collected, giving manufacturers advanced analytics for better business decisions.

Industry 4.0 photo

RAIN RFID is an integral part of the Internet of Things and a key enabler of Industry 4.0. With a RAIN RFID solution, products are tagged and readers are placed around a facility or embedded in machines, allowing manufactures to identify a product’s status and location, automate processes, streamline machine maintenance to prevent downtime, and allow for product customizations based on customer preference.  RAIN RFID can be easily integrated into part labels at their source, making tagging easy. And, because RAIN RFID offers long read ranges without requiring costly active tags, integration costs are lower than other RFID implementations.

Let’s take a closer look at a particular industry, automotive, to illustrate how RAIN RFID can be a key player in enabling Industry 4.0. Cars are a complicated item to build. The frame is brought into the facility, placed on a conveyor and slowly pulled through the assembly line. From there, parts are added (think doors, engine, seats, electronics and more). These parts must be locatable within a facility and replenished at a just-in-time cadence that ensures the line doesn’t stop. By tagging parts, manufactures can monitor inventory levels and ensure items are replenished in time, thus reducing overhead costs.

As a tagged product moves through the assembly line, it encounters dozens of machine interactions. If tagged with a writeable RAIN RFID tag, the product’s status can be updated at each step of the assembly process. With this information, manufacturers can monitor a specific product’s status as it moves through the facility.

Tagging products also gives manufacturers flexibility. Instead of having to set up machines to build one variation of a product at a time, machines can be programed to build 100’s of configurations. A tagged product can then identify what customizations it needs, enabling the machine to perform the necessary operation on a per-product basis.

Another benefit for automakers is recall management. When products and parts are tagged, specific parts can be associated to the specific product they’re on. This gives greater visibility into a product line, allowing the automaker to only recall the specific products that contain the recalled part and thus eliminating large-scale recalls on unaffected products. 

Besides the many benefits of using RAIN RFID to enable product to machine communication like just in time part replenishment, flexible manufacturing configurations and recall management, manufacturers can also leverage a RAIN RFID infrastructure to collect valuable data in their facility. With this data, manufacturers get, for the first time, very precise production data, enabling them to identify spots in the production line where bottlenecks occur. They can also use this data to predict machine down times, allowing them to do preventative maintenance.

It’s important to remember that Industry 4.0 doesn’t replace workers. Rather, it helps the workforce move into more skilled positions rather than doing basic product assembly or monitoring a single machine. Instead, workers can manage multiple machines at one time, and use collected data to further improve processes throughout the facility. 

As manufacturers begin to deploy RAIN RFID broadly, smart factories will become the standard model for manufacturing, driving forward business by reducing cost and increasing efficiencies. And, the data collected from these deployments will give new insights into business processes that will have an even broader reaching impact in business worldwide.