RFID Tracking Technology in Manufacturing: How It Benefits the Process

The 21st century is full of complex challenges for manufacturers, but new technological tools have evolved to address those challenges. One such innovation is RFID tracking, a technology that uses tiny radio transponders to communicate information in real time and track key manufacturing processes.

Manufacturers are increasingly using RFID to monitor many different aspects of their operations. It’s uniquely well-suited for our current manufacturing landscape and is becoming a key element of automation. Below, we’ll discuss seven benefits of using RFID tracking technology in the manufacturing sector. 

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Many businesses, and manufacturers in particular, have turned to RFID to help them refine and streamline their inventory control processes. It’s an excellent tool for automated inventory control, and it comes with a small space footprint — usually just the thumbprint-sized tags and RFID readers in plastic enclosures for electronics

Thanks to the numerous advantages RFID offers, like transmitting without a direct line of sight, it’s even replaced barcodes in some warehouses. With packages tracked automatically through sensing of RFID tags, it can often greatly streamline processes, and touchpoints can be reduced as workers scan multiple tags simultaneously. 

  • Work in Progress Tracking

Many manufacturers now use RFID to track the status of works in progress (WIPs). This is especially useful for long and complex manufacturing processes where managers may need to monitor an extended chronology of decisions and modifications. Timestamping can also provide crucial data about workflows for process analysis. 

In addition, RFID helps spot mistakes in the manufacturing process. Using RFID-outfitted components, businesses can set rules that trigger alarms if the sensor detects a failure condition. For example, a manufacturing process that requires a NEMA 1 enclosure would alert if the RFID tag on a part indicates that it’s not NEMA rated. Such proactive interventions are crucial for developing the highly streamlined compliance necessary to compete in the new landscape of manufacturing. 

  • Simplifying Security

RFID also presents powerful tools for ensuring security in manufacturing facilities. Manufacturers can key unique RFID badges to individuals with specific responsibilities to keep unauthorized personnel from entering certain areas or using certain equipment. The rewritability of RFID can be a big advantage, here, since it allows badges to be reused or written with additional permissions. 

However, it’s important to note that security can be one of the major weaknesses of RFID. It’s possible to capture and “spoof” an RFID signal over the air, as criminals have demonstrated in a series of key fob-based car thefts. Manufacturers will need to follow RFID security best practices and integrate RFID with other effective security measures rather than relying on it alone. 

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  • Capturing Data

An RFID tag can capture all kinds of data that are useful to manufacturers, especially when it’s part of an automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) system. These systems connect to networks of RFID scanners that automatically read tags and enter their data into a system. Large AIDC systems are increasingly common in manufacturing and logistics facilities. 

Well-implemented AIDCs allow manufacturers to track huge volumes of data at speeds much faster than human workers could achieve. They also provide data that allow facility workers (or other automated systems) to adjust processes according to conditions. Of course, the efficacy depends on whether the manufacturer’s choice of system fits their needs, so it’s crucial to choose the right AIDC.

  • Tracking Damage

Breakage can be frustratingly difficult to track within the supply chain. When a shipment arrives damaged, it’s often not clear when and where during shipping the damage occurred. RFID technology offers potential solutions, in the form of impact sensors connected to RFID tags. If the package experiences an impact, the sensor records and timestamps it on the RFID tag.

It’s a perfect example of how RFID has given businesses new tools to foster accountability and transparency within the supply chain. Armed with quantitative data on breakage, businesses can find out where it’s happening and focus on solutions. Moreover, because the data can be captured and analyzed at scale, it’s easier than ever to intervene in supply chain trends that might have escaped notice otherwise. 

  • Tracing Batches

Manufacturers have to be accountable for the quality of the goods they produce, and RFID batch tracing is a promising tool for that purpose. Consumer packaged goods manufacturers, especially in the food and pharmaceuticals industries, are now using RFID as a highly accurate and transparent method for tracking batches and shipments. It’s more relevant than ever in a time of increased concerns about food safety

Every batch tracing system works a little differently, but most start by assigning an RFID tag to a batch at the beginning of the production process. As the batch moves through production, the tag can be rewritten (either by a worker or automatically) to reflect the batch’s history and chain of custody. As long as the information is in a standardized format, stakeholders throughout the supply chain can scan the tags for instant information.

  • Protecting Assets

RFID systems can also provide real-time visibility for a business’s most important assets. Most manufacturers have expensive assets like tools and equipment that are essential to their business. Attaching an RFID chip to a device can help businesses monitor these assets and ensure that they’re being used and cared for correctly. 

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Asset tracking software allows businesses to combine the data from these RFID tags into a bird’s eye view of asset deployment. Cloud-based SaaS RFID systems are becoming particularly popular because they give a real-time overview that helps businesses stay agile and spot problems more quickly. RFID will continue to evolve alongside cloud technology, and the future combinations of the two will present exciting opportunities for improving operations. 

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