automotive industry

March 25, 2021

How RFID accelerates Industry 4.0 in the automotive industry

RFID integration not only streamlines car manufacturers’ processes, but also creates transparent integration with parts suppliers – and enables all the potential benefits of the digital transformation offered by Industry 4.0.

As you scroll through the web searching for information on RFID technology in the automotive industry, you will find multiple articles discussing the many business benefits of RFID.

Not only are automotive RFID systems disrupting the supply chain, but connected, autonomous, shared and electric (CASE) mobility services are on the rise. Adopting a flexible, future-focused mindset around these technologies allows companies to get ahead of the curve.

automotive industry

Avery Dennison Smartrac Dogbone - a common UHF RFID product in global industrial applications

Despite all of the clear benefits however, RFID can still be confusing at a technical, deployment level. How exactly does it work in a global manufacturing context? Is RFID durable? Is it secure? Let’s answer some of these questions, using as an example Ultra High Frequency (UHF) passive RFID labels, also known as RAIN RFID labels.

Global tracking made easy
RFID readers are set to the relevant country’s frequency, therefore making them applicable to that region. Each country defines its frequency standards; however, most RFID labels are designed for global use. Some particular RFID label designs, such as on-metal tags, can be tuned for regional frequencies.

Benefits versus limitations
RFID labels do face technical challenges in certain environments. For example, metal surroundings or other radio waves can affect RFID read range. This is because RFID labels are passive, and they will reflect (backscatter) the radio waves they receive from an automotive RFID reader. Metal, concrete walls or other radio waves can affect or even block the signal from the reader or label and have an influence on readability and read range. Despite these constraints, the benefits of automotive RFID labels still far outweigh their limitations. 

And in most cases, we can find workarounds that allow the labels to work appropriately. For example, by carefully positioning and tuning the reader’s signal, you can ensure it is not blocked or is in any way interfered with. By using FlagTag or foam tags on a metal surface, we make sure that the tags can backscatter without signal disturbance.

Can data encoded on an RFID tag be trusted?
Normally, anyone can encode information on the silicon chip embedded in RFID labels or tags by adding to or overwriting previous data. However, some chips offer the possibility of locked memory banks and digital signature creation. In addition, the unique tag ID number, which is stored in the TID (tag ID) memory block, cannot be changed by anyone. 

Avery Dennison Smartrac offers a variety of security options best suited for applications which require high read range and that demand an extended user memory to store data. OEMs can encrypt the information, but they have standard formats on how they save data. 

Batch reading for maximum efficiency
In most situations, an RFID reader will read all RFID tags within a specific range or area as one batch. The reader will recognize all individual unique ID codes in a split second.

The tag uses the reader signal to power up and respond to a request for the data. The tag then modulates, or regulates, the carrier signal from the reader and reflects (backscatters) the signal. This low-amplitude signal is detected and decoded by the reader. 

Reader deployment and range depend on the environment
A separate reader is needed in each area in your facility where you would like to create a reading point. Most RFID labels have a read range of 10 meters or more, provided nothing interferes with the radio signals; but for every reading point, you must fine-tune the reader to the optimum settings. Sometimes this involves reducing the power and the reading range. 

automotive industry

RFID reader in action

…and the automotive environment can be harsh
Most RFID labels can easily withstand -40°C to +150°C, which are the usual temperatures that the labels are subjected to during testing. They might not be readable at these temperatures, but they will survive and can be read when back to operating temperature. Typical operating temperature range for an inlay inside a label is from -40C to +85C. Labels can normally operate in even more extreme temperatures for a limited amount of time.

Customized labels to suit OEM needs
OEMs choose the RFID labels that best suit their process. There are a number of variables that need to be assessed; the tag design, memory and antenna design to name a few. 

We’ve been working with many customers and OEMs, so we know which direction to take and can advise you on the right solutions. For example, one of our key converter partners, ALT Technologies, can convert different RFID inlays into standard labels with predefined materials and a predefined size to fit custom solutions. OEMs are recognising the potential of RFID in more than just labelling solutions, and it is also becoming much more important to automotive parts suppliers.

Printing requirements
RFID labels are produced just like you print your current barcode labels. There is no need to change your process; you just need to use a printer that incorporates RFID encoding. Almost all printer manufacturers have RFID-enabled printers for this, which look exactly the same as your current barcode printers.

The RFID is encoded and printed at the same time. Depending on the database location, these processes can be both online and offline. The printers and readers are suited to work with any RFIDs, although settings might need to be adjusted. This means that a broad range of customers can be serviced with one type of printer and reader. 

But this doesn’t mean that barcodes are becoming obsolete. We believe that barcode and RFID will always be combined. In this way, you not only create a redundancy system in case one of them fails, but you also ensure that facilities that do not have RFID readers installed (yet) can still function.

A solution for every application
Avery Dennison Smartrac has been collaborating closely with key converter partners like ALT Technologies, which has been working together with Tier 1 suppliers in the automotive industry and RFID manufacturers for over 20 years. Together we have the experience and partners to create a streamlined solution that best suits the needs of the automotive industry. 

For further information about how RFID technology can streamline your processes and increase efficiency, click here.

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