Ford has been using intelligent tags since 1984 to track engine assembly. In 1984, the Dagenham plant used a simple Statek recordable tag which only contained 64 bytes of information.
The group now uses robust intelligent tags, with up to 32 kilobytes memory, to mark the progress of components in pallets on all its main engine and vehicle assembly lines.
Paul Elliott, supervisor of quality and test systems for Europe, says: ‘The key justification for the expense of using intelligent tags is to instruct the machines what to do with each component.’
At a station, a pallet’s tag will inform the operator what part number to install and relevant assembly specifications. If a machine has to tighten a bolt, the tag will provide details of the torque to be used. Test results are also logged on the tag.
A variety of RFID tags are employed, including Allen Bradley tags on vehicle lines at the Cologne and Auto Europa plants. Ford also uses German-made Euchner tags on the Puma line. Siemens Moby-I tags are used on the AJ V8 Jaguar engine line in Bridgend and the Sigma 1 and Sigma 2 lines, which make the Zetec SE engine at Bridgend and Valencia.
At the Bridgend Jaguar plant, a 2D identification code is first laser-marked onto each component. On the line, that data is transferred to an intelligent tag, which is attached to a pallet. At the end of the line the costly tag can be re-used.
As RFID tags get cheaper, they are likely to be incorporated in vehicles and contain a complete record of manufacture, test and maintenance history. Elliott says: ‘We are seeking an economic tag to handle the entire lifecycle of the vehicle.’