The key to warehouse efficiency in manufacturing is mobility, according to Kevin Prouty, Sr. Director, Manufacturing Solutions, at Symbol Technologies, Inc.
“No one builds a warehouse anymore without putting some form of mobility data collection system in,” Prouty said. “World-class manufacturers are lean, innovative and global.” By utilizing the best mobility technology available, manufacturers can stay competitive in a global market.
A technology that is beginning to gain ground in manufacturing is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). “It’s no different from barcodes from an implementation standpoint,” Prouty said and predicts that more and more manufacturing companies will make the transition from barcodes to RFID in the near future. “The technology is there for RFID.”
RFID can be used to assess both stationary equipment, as well as product shipping. By using mobile data collection devices on the shop floor, an added level of safety and validation for components can provide additional efficiency.
One industry that can benefit greatly from RFID on stationary equipment is the petro-chemical industry in refineries. By placing RFID tags on key components, mobile devices can display the operation of that specific component. In addition, the mobile device can confirm that the employee was there at the component and completed the necessary validation processes.
When an RFID tag is placed on a stationary object, data can be written directly to the tag. Once maintenance is completed, the record can be written directly to the tag for future validation and information retrieval on that component.
When asked about the recent concerns over malware in RFID chips, Prouty considered it a non-issue. “If someone is getting by physical security, then you have bigger problems than them writing viruses to an RFID chip,” Prouty said.
In the future, RFID will evolve as part of the mobile network. It can be the first data collection technology that can be part of a wireless network. As the price in technology decreases, 802.11 tags will eventually be developed and used on a wide basis.
One issue that continues to plague all mobile technology is display size. If the display is too small, it can be difficult to read. It the display is large enough for constant use, the battery can be drained quickly. Symbol Technologies is currently focusing on addressing that issue.
Prouty cites a steep learning curve until RFID becomes more widely accepted. Currently, this technology is going to market as a “specialty technology,” according to Prouty. Moving forward, specifically in the manufacturing sector, automation vendors will begin to play a larger role for RFID to become a more readily-used technology, similar to the current role of networks on a shop floor. Eventually, RFID will be utilized with various network systems, such as Oracle and SAP. Intelligent hand-held devices will be able to log onto a network and validate data for both product shipping and stationary equipment.