Today’s RFID Technology Isn’t a Chip Off the Old Block

by | Jan 31, 2023

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Radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip technology has saved many a production run simply by keeping track of and managing tools and toolholders. With the advent of Industry 3.0, toolholder embedded RFID technology expanded beyond what was essentially a license plate function of part identification and serial numbers to monitoring and storing usage hours, tool dimensions, modifications and other pertinent information about the holder and cutter. RFID centered on the tool and was primarily linked in some manner to a tool management system.

With the advent of Industry 4.0, however, there’s a new game afoot, and the RFID implant now plays an integral, if not critical, role in the manufacturing process. It’s no longer just about the embedded tool, it’s about asset (think, machine) management.

Industry 4.0 is based on machine connectivity, data, and communicating as much of that data as possible between assets and floor managers for data-driven decisions. Acquiring and storing the data is critical to the process. By establishing the optimum parameters for a given cut and storing that on the embedded chip, the tool, itself, runs the cut. The number of hours on the tool, ambient pressure, coolant temperature and flow, vibration, heat and humidity can all be recorded for a good cut, stored on the chip and read by the machine CNC. If any of the required variables fall out of range on a subsequent cut, operators are alerted before the part is scrapped.

In addition to the obvious benefit of efficient machine operation and management, chip-monitored machining cuts down on operator reliance. Prior to the current shortage of skilled machinists, an operator could rely on experience and judgment to sense when a cut was going wrong. Today, the lack of practiced and seasoned personnel makes operator intuition and intervention much less likely, resulting in a higher incidence of scrapped parts, rework and downtime.

The barriers for entry into Industry 4.0 RFID are easing, and as time goes on and with each iteration, the technology becomes cheaper and easier to implement. Additionally, there are plenty of integrators available to take the burden of sifting through the possibilities for the right solution off shop management.

Probably the biggest obstacle to entry, experts say, is inertia: a legacy shop that is stuck on certain ways and means of production, wary and timid of new ideas and technology. Unfortunately, there’s a business cost to such avoidance. Much can be gained in terms of efficiency by simply trying something new, and there’s a great deal to be lost by not staying current and competitive with the technology.

Depending upon a given shop’s particular challenges, efficiency gains will vary, but RFID implementation has provided as much as a 28% reduction in downtime and 22% decrease in rework time. With those kinds of numbers, implementation costs can, in some cases, be recovered through increased production in a matter of months.

To take advantage of new RFID capabilities, shops should first understand their long-term direction and goals. What, precisely, does it want to accomplish? Is the shop ready to move headlong into sophisticated machine learning, or do operators simply need a text alarm when machine or operation parameters are exceeded?

Acquiring hardware not aligned with where a shop is going and what it needs to get there is anything but efficient. Systems should be brand agnostic, or open, to avoid getting pigeon-holed into one proprietary technology box, expandable and scalable to allow shops to purchase only what they need then build out as those needs grow.

The challenges shops face today have changed very little over time. Manufacturing has always sought to decrease downtime, eliminate scrap, avoid reworking substandard parts and relying on inexperienced operators. What started as a mere RFID toolholder license plate, however, is poised to change the landscape and move shops easily into this next manufacturing revolution.

To find out how your shop can benefit from today’s RFID technology, contact the REGO-FIX Tech Team for chip installation into your toolholders or modification of toolholders to accept chips and balance to OEM specifications.