Smart RFID technology

Farewell to the barcode: KUKA and HARTING are building on radio frequency identification with OPC_UA communication.

Smart factories require smart processes and technologies

In the context of Industrie 4.0 and the increasing automation and digitization in production shops, radio frequency identification (RFID) is also gaining importance. The reason: intelligent production is only possible if robots, tools, grippers and workpieces can be digitally identified and information can be exchanged.

Radio frequency identification is a basic prerequisite for 4.0 manufacturing.

Harald Heinrich, KUKA project manager at the SmartProduction Center

In this context, KUKA is building on the know-how of HARTING, the leading global supplier of industrial connection technology, and also involved in the standardization of RFID communication. RFID systems are being implemented and tested in KUKA's matrix production – a versatile and flexible manufacturing system

RFID systems identify machines, tools, components or other process-relevant objects in extremely challenging and harsh industrial environments. This allows for transparent design and precise control of processes. Thanks to this technology, unambiguous identification of objects is possible – as are the determination of object location and the exchange of information. The transponder makes things smart and is thus an important building block for manufacturing in accordance with Industrie 4.0

RFID floor TAG for check-in and RFID check-out of AGVs

Smart production via RFID 

Transmitter-receiver systems, such as RFID technology, enable the automatic and non-contact identification and localization of objects. The transponder is stimulated and transfers its data via electromagnetic waves emitted by the read/write unit. Featuring a processor the size of a grain of sand, the transponder is directly attached to the respective object. The power supply is ensured by the antenna, through which the energy intake is accomplished during the communication process. A unique number sequence makes it unambiguously identifiable worldwide. 

And that is not possible with a barcode? In principle, it is. However, the barcode does have one decisive disadvantage: it is not bidirectional and thus the data cannot be changed. Unlike the transponder, which is rewritable and can function as a data storage medium. A further advantage of the transponder is that it can be placed inside the object and is thus more resistant to dirt. In addition, no visual contact is required and several transponders can be read simultaneously

In flexible and adaptable production, RFID technology plays a decisive role since it ensures that the individual participants are networked. Our systems now also provide the necessary object intelligence in KUKA’s matrix production.

Stefan Olding, CEO of HARTING Deutschland

RFID in KUKA matrix production

Adaptable and flexible: this is how components are manufactured in KUKA matrix production. A key role is played here by the automated guided vehicles (AGV) and KUKA SmartProduction_control software, which is based on technologies with artificial intelligence (AI). The smart pilot faciltity is located at the Augsburg site of the system and machine builder and is being tested there. Standardized production cells form the basis. They are equipped with product-neutral basic functions and can be easily expanded with product-specific tools depending on the order situation and batch sizes.

Reading and writing the RFID transponder in the machining station (robot cell).

The AGVs are responsible for transporting the components. This is done fully automatically. The individual robots pick up the components supplied to them by the AGVs and join them using the relevant technology. In the test cell, car doors and wheel arches for various OEMs are manufactured on the same system: conversion is carried out in a short space of time. The RF-R300 RFID system from HARTING is also deployed here. 

We have opted for RFID technology from HARTING because it is capable, among other things, of communicating with our SmartProduction_control software and our PLC via OPC_UA.

Dr. Andreas Bauer, KUKA software architect for SmartProduction_control

The transponders are located on the component fixtures, on the grippers or on process equipment such as the spot weld gun. On entry into or exit from the cells and after process steps, the transponders are read (RFID check-in) or written (RFID check-out).

RFID transponder (RFID TAG) mounted on component fixtures

These data – concerning, among other things, weight, time of maintenance, operating hours and errors that have occurred – can be sent to the KUKA Cloud by means of OPC_UA and evaluated. Processes can be optimized and data – for example, from tools – are promptly made globally available, thus providing commercial benefits. Furthermore, RFID technology provides an additional control beyond the KUKA SmartProduction_control software. Creation of the component history also helps with international project cooperation. 

If, for example, tools and fixtures are exchanged internationally, employees on site can read the chip and have all necessary information at their disposal. In the future, RFID technology will become more and more powerful.

Markus Ott, KUKA RFID technology project coordinator at the SmartProduction Center

Summary

RFID technology will make the barcode obsolete since it cannot provide the advantages of rewritability and resistance to dirt. These, however, are essential for production in the age of Industrie 4.0. Transponders make for smart objects and transparent manufacturing and offer a further control in addition to the KUKA SmartProduction_control software. With its system, HARTING supplies an open platform, thereby enabling easy integration into KUKA matrix production. Exchange between the KUKA software and the cloud thus becomes possible. The experience gained here has long-term benefits as it allows standards to be established in future projects. 

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