How to Optimize Supply Chain Management with RFID

The much-touted supply chain covers all activities that an organization performs from raw material receiving to finished goods delivered to the customer.  AssetPulse’ RFID solutions can play a role at almost every step of the Supply Chain, from receiving components or raw material at the Receiving dock to delivering finished goods to the Customer’s facility.

supply chain management

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1) RFID tagging of raw material to increase their traceability

Leveraging AssetPulse’ RFID Asset Tracking solutions provide in depth visibility into the Supply Chain. Raw material that feeds into the Manufacturing process can be RFID tagged to not only expedite the Pick Process of the Raw Material, but also will allow for traceability of the raw material through the Manufacturing process. For specific industries where it is important to be able to trace back specific lot numbers and/or batch numbers of raw materials to a particular manufactured product, AssetPulse’ RFID solutions are a perfect fit. Tracking raw material with RFID also allows for real time inventory tracking of raw material levels.

2) RFID tagging WIP to optimize manufacturing process

Visibility also extends to the specific equipment used and also, of course, to the product under manufacture. WIP is tracked through the manufacturing floor, thereby providing visibility into where and how long WIP stays at each phase of manufacturing.

3) Manufacturing Line Changeover is automated by RFID tagging raw materials and tools

Other benefits of using AssetPulse’ RFID Asset Tracking solutions in the Supply Chain include Automation and Increasing Accuracy. E.g. automating the Changeover process can lead to enormous improvement in productivity and accuracy. It eliminates the meticulous and time consuming manual tasks that need to be completed by qualified personnel, which always have potential for human error.

4) Finished Goods can be tagged with RFID tag at the end of the production line

The Supply Chain doesn’t end at completion of Manufacturing. Finished Goods need to be tracked from the Manufacturing facility through the Warehouse or Distribution Center to the Consumer/Customer. RFID tagging finished goods lends visibility to the location of the finished goods as they are moved out of the factory and into the Warehouse. The length of stay at the Warehouse can be tracked. Various metrics on productivity, inventory management and pricing can be calculated using this data.

AssetPulse’ RFID solutions can also help in the post sales phase, particularly, in industries where product is returned to the factory either as an RMA or for maintenance/repairs. There is visibility into how the product moves within the factory undergoing various tests and processes and the customer can be notified when the product is ready to be shipped back to their facility.

Since most organizations have a Supply Chain Enterprise system, an ERP system and/or an MES system, AssetPulse has performed bidirectional integrations with such Enterprise systems including SAP, JDE, Oracle, etc.

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How does RFID help in Manufacturing Changeover Process?

Change over

Changeover is an important component of lean manufacturing initiatives. It is the process followed when a manufacturing line is being changed over from producing one part to another or from completing one workorder to starting a new workorder. Changeovers can last from a few hours to days or weeks, depending on how extensive the changes to the line are. This process requires a lot of attention to detail and can be vulnerable to human errors. Errors during the Changeover process can have lasting repercussions long after the finished goods leave the line. Due to the meticulous nature of doing a Changeover process, specially trained personnel are needed to perform these tasks, which can be costly. Ultimate goal of any manufacturing organization is to achieve the fastest possible changeovers without compromising on accuracy or quality.

Changeover complexity depends more on the process itself—factors such as number of internal steps, and validations required. Rapid changeover is critical to improving flow and maximizing throughput. Use of RFID can go a long way in automating this process, thereby minimizing or even eliminating human errors. Aside from error prevention, the Changeover process can also be expedited, thereby reducing overall downtime of the manufacturing line.

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AssetPulse’ RFID solution has been implemented at various manufacturing facilities to automate the Changeover process. In industries that are strictly governed by compliance requirements, using the AssetPulse RFID Asset tracking solution also allows for automated record keeping. Details about Raw Material or Components including Part numbers, Lot numbers, Batch numbers, etc. can be automatically recorded at each point of the Manufacturing Line during Changeover. Equipment and Tools deployed during the Changeover process can also be automatically recorded.

How RFID helps in Line Changeover Process?
How RFID helps in Line Changeover Process?

Not only does the AssetPulse RFID solution help automate recording of tools, equipment and components deployed during the Changeover process, but it can also help with validation and detecting errors. At every step, a validation can automatically be performed to ensure the right tools, equipment and components or raw materials are placed at the right location. On incorrect placement, the user can be alerted, so the error is rectified immediately.

RFID can also help with enforcing the sequence of steps in the Changeover process. E.g. if the Changeover process requires pre-staging to be done, before the items are moved to the actual line, the AssetPulse RFID Asset Tracking solution can ensure the right items are pre-staged and will throw up errors if they are moved to the line without the pre-staging step. AssetPulse customers have seen a much-improved Changeover process, that is faster, more accurate and which allows the organization to meet compliance regulations with significantly lesser time and resources.

RFID & [WIP] Work-in-Progress Tracking System for Manufacturing Units

Work in Progress Tracking System

WIP Tracking, Work-in-progress tracking encompasses nearly all the phases of manufacturing. It starts with tracking raw material which includes Receiving and the Put Away process. AssetPulse’s RFID solutions can provide Real Time visibility of flow of materials through the production process. It allows for a lean and optimized production process by keeping the demand and build requirements in sync.

As WIP is converted to subassemblies, they are moved standalone or in bins, containers and totes. We work with the Manufacturing Engineers to determine what should be tagged – the physical subassembly itself or the containers which carry them. This is a function of the ease and practicality with which the subassemblies themselves can be tagged. The factors to determine this include, the size of the subassembly, the material it is made of, the environment that the tag would be exposed to, contamination risk etc.  Class III Medical Devices and Semiconductor Wafers are cases where it is not likely direct-tagging is possible due to contamination risk. The extremely high temperatures in a firing process in industrial manufacturing may not allow for direct tagging.

Tracking WIP in real time provides accurate snapshots of exactly when it entered and exited a specific phase in production. Relying on personnel to ‘log in and log out’ WIP at each phase can lead to costly errors, especially in time-sensitive processes in medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturing, where timestamps are also recorded.

Work in Progress Tracking System

Work-in-Progress Tracking System

WIP tracking can be accomplished in real-time or at critical junctures in the manufacturing process. This is also a function of the manufacturing environment. Industrial manufacturing floors lend themselves well to real-time tracking since there is typically, sufficient room to deploy RFID read-points on the floor. With respect to Clean Room Assembly lines, real-time tracking is possible with careful study of the lines and determining optimal RFID read-point locations at each workstation. AssetPulse has extensive experience with both industrial and Clean Room manufacturing operations.

Working closely with Manufacturing Engineering and Operations, we have successfully deployed our RFID solutions where bottlenecks, ‘waiting for parts’ stoppages, ‘completed too quickly’ steps, ‘taking too long’ steps, out-of-sequence steps etc. have been detected accurately and efficiently. Tracking Rework and scrapped parts provides visibility into oft-obscured parts of production.

AssetGather RFID solutions work hand-in-hand with Enterprise Resource Planning Systems during the entire manufacturing process. ERP systems track the virtual flow of raw materials through the processes while AssetGather’s RFID solutions track the physical flow. Real time updates back and forth between the two systems, allow not only for an efficient work flow, but also allows for maintaining integrity within the entire process by physically validating various process steps and alerting when an anomaly is detected.

It is highly recommended that all stakeholders in Manufacturing are involved in designing and deploying RFID solutions. Processes may need to be changed slightly or significantly, and in some cases, eliminated entirely. The initial scoping, design and redesign of processes is worth the effort, since this can result in a many-fold improvement in visibility, efficiency, accuracy and overall quality.

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Work Order Tracking on the Manufacturing Floor

RFID for Work Order Tracking System

Work Order Tracking – Regardless of industry, be it medical devices manufacturing, semiconductor/aerospace manufacturing or industrial molding, work orders or paper travelers are an integral part of the assembly line. The actual usage of the paper traveler may differ from industry to industry, but the challenges of tracking them, remain the same.

Work orders or paper travelers usually accompany the product being manufactured. Some may relate to a single product and others relate to a batch of product. As the parts and unfinished products move through the different work cells on the manufacturing floor, the traveler needs to stay in close proximity to the unfinished product, since it contains vital information of the state of the Work in Process (WIP) product. RFID tagging the workorder enables in work order tracking which in turn allows the product to be tracked through the manufacturing process. In essence, the workorder can be a good proxy for the WIP items. This is especially true with sensitive WIP like medical devices and semiconductor wafers, where the WIP cannot be directly RFID tagged.

RFID for Work Order Tracking System
Work Order Tracking System

Various parameters can be monitored with work order tracking including the last known location of the work order, and recording the sequence of work cells it went through.  For instance, as the paper travelers are transitioning through work cells, the time spent at each work cell directly correlates to the time spent by the technicians/engineers at each work cell which in turn, feeds into calculating the Cost of product(s) being manufactured. RFID tagging the workorders and tracking them through the workstations, allows organizations to track the time spent and the speed at which parts and unfinished products move through the manufacturing floor. These insights help to improve the production efficiency where required.

Additionally, a completed workorder is an indication of finished product. So, completed work order tracking can give direct insight into how much product has been manufactured, which in turn, can provide insight into inventory levels of used and current raw material.

Occasionally, the workorder along with the unfinished product can get misplaced or ‘wander away’. The downtime that results from searching for them, can adversely impact manufacturing efficiency and throughput. RFID tagging the work orders is an excellent solution to address this issue. With AssetPulse’s AssetGather RFID based work order tracking software, the workorder can be monitored and ‘searched for’ in the event of misplacement.

Further, when manufacturing is complete, workorders may need to be archived for audit reasons, whether they are stored on site or moved offsite. Either way, RFID tagging them is an excellent and efficient way to search for them and locate them quickly.

AssetPulse’s customizable RFID asset tracking solution is used by several of AssetPulse’ customers as a work order tracking system for tracking workorder on their manufacturing floor. Few customers have also integrated this process into their GMP guidelines. Customers span various industries including aerospace, construction and biotech.

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RFID for Inventory Control in Manufacturing

RFID Implemented for Inventory Control in Manufacturing Operations

Managing inventory levels in a cost-effective and revenue-driven manner can be difficult, even for the most experienced manufacturer. Without access to effective software to help automate inventory control processes, properly managing inventory levels can be quite the challenge for manufacturers. AssetPulse RFID asset tracking software helps in automating the inventory management.

RFID Implemented for Inventory Control in Manufacturing Operations
RFID Based Inventory Control in Manufacturing Operations

AssetPulse’s inventory control capabilities allow manufacturers to automate their processing based off of previous purchasing trends and can even set reminder alert for raw material orders to renew when needed. This is achieved using RFID tags for assets and deploying RFID readers in strategic locations. With a real time inventory data, inventory control becomes less of a pain point and more a second nature

How inventory is traditionally managed?

Many different ways are used to keep control of inventory. One basic method is by creating a spreadsheet with various columns for product name, item number, and quantity. A column to deduct what is sold. Additionally, a log for returns and new incoming stock is maintained. It requires continuous manual monitoring to ensure every transaction is accounted for. Of course, this is an incredibly labor-intensive process. The information is difficult to share, and another huge pitfall is human error. People are prone to make mistakes––mistakes that are difficult to track and result in inaccurate inventory numbers.

Forecasting Demand

A manufacturer relies on inventory to complete a finished product for which they expect to get paid. For example, an aerospace manufacturer has millions of dollars in parts in their inventory of raw materials that they include in the finished product.

Forecasting demand is essential for any business. For a manufacturer, this means having enough inventories on hand to meet this demand. If a manufacturer fails to forecast demand and orders too little inventory, they face the possibility of losing customers to a competitor. A late order may come at a higher expense, as supplier prices rise due to increased demand; this is another way the manufacturer loses money. If the manufacturer overestimates demand and orders too much inventory, they stand the chance of having unused inventory and may have to incur additional storage costs.

AssetPulse’s RFID in Manufacturing

Inventory management can be automated with the help of RFID to track and manage assets. RFID tags are affixed onto the items that are inventoried. With the help of Fixed RFID readers or handheld RFID scanners, inventory data is updated in real-time or periodically, whichever is preferred.

This inventory data is centrally stored on a web application that can be readily accessed from anywhere. Apart from this, AssetPulse RFID asset tracking solution also alerts users when the inventory level is running below par. All this happens automatically without any human intervention, thereby making the otherwise time consuming process very efficient and accurate.

The RFID asset tracking software also has different reports including historical reports which enables manufacturer to forecast a demand and stock required inventory.

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