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RFID: THE GAME CHANGER

RFID: THE GAME CHANGER

It is not “IF” but “When,” RFID will be the industry game changer

By TA News Bureau:

Every year approximately two billion tyres are produced worldwide, for a variety of applications, ranging from passenger to commercial use, the end product of a very complicated and process-driven industry. Thus there are many regulations and compliance guidelines which must be followed, within each process step, where the mishandling of a component can have destructive consequences. After all, we all have faith that our plane will land safely; that the truck with chemicals stays on the road; and that our car will function well at speeds of 200 km/hour on the German Autobahn. The average price of a set of car tyres is $500 – suppose we drive 6500 km with this set, we are confident that for $0.0125 per mile we will always arrive safely regardless of the weather or road conditions.

Industry, legislative and market pressures are constantly forcing manufacturers to improve the quality of a tyre, developing more services and do it all at a lower cost. Tyre producers from low-wage countries can flood the world markets with tyres that are sometimes half the price than the established leading brands. To continue to enhance their products and services, producers must introduce new business concepts such as “pay per mile”, leasing of tyres or “tyre as a service.” To identify, track, maintain, and verify these products and services, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) will be THE No. 1 game changer.

Evolution of RFID technology in the tyre industry

RFID technology traces its roots back to World War II. About 75 years ago radio identification occurred within a big box, today this takes place within a chip, that is hardly visible. The current passive RFID form is a chip on an antenna, also called a tag, inlay or transponder, which does not require its own energy source, e.g. battery. Rather, the moment the tag enters the radiation field of an antenna, it harvests energy, wakes up, and begins transmitting its unique number. When individual tags are applied to tyres on a pallet, counting can be completed very quickly. In a matter of seconds it is possible to scan and identify a large number of tyres.
Today, RFID technology operates under a global standard called UHF (Ultra High Frequency) EPC Class 1 Gen 2 also known as ISO18000-6C. This RFID technology standard operates globally in one of two main frequency ranges – 902 – 928 MHz or 865-868 MHz. All applications described in this article have been developed and are compliant with this global standard. One of the great advantages of this standardisation is the ability of users, anywhere in the world, to scan and identify tagged items using standardised equipment. A standard RFID tag has several memory features that ensure each product can be individually and uniquely identified. A standard UHF EPC Gen2 / ISO18000-6C compliant chip will have a combination of TID (unique read-only Tag Identifier burned into the chip by its manufacturer), EPC (writable memory area to store the Electronic Product Code, typically 96-bits but can optionally reach up to 480-bits). For applications demanding more data storage, chips are available with additional User Memory (available from 512 bits to 64 Kbytes of user memory). Additionally the Reserved Memory area of the chip is used for managing access password, kill password, additional feature bits and chip overhead. The unique combination of the chip TID and user generated unique EPC, can eliminate simple copying and fraud practices.
Having a global standard is an advantage to end users. Companies such as FineLine Technologies have developed specialised, innovative solutions that are applicable worldwide.

Better, cheaper, faster and 100% transparent

As indicated, the tyre industry is constantly challenged to optimise processes, automate operations, and at the same time introduce new business concepts that add value for end customers.
In the past decade, FineLine Technologies and its subsidiaries Data2 and Ferm RFID Solutions have developed a variety of solutions specifically for the tyre industry. All applications have been developed in close consultation and input with various tyre manufacturers and extensively tested in tyre production environments. A variety of tagging applications have been developed and implemented for each stage of the tyre production process.

Inbound raw materials

RFID labels are used to identify raw materials such as rubber, carbon black and chemicals the moment they enter the factory. Receiving, inventory management and searching for specific material become quick and reliable with wireless scanning. When it is time to use the raw materials in the mixing machine, the tagged materials are reliably identified by RFID reader installed on mixing machine and integrated with the machine control interface. The machine “knows” which type of rubber recipe is being produced and “counts” the unique ingredients. The moment the wrong “big bag” is loaded, the machine stops, and an alarm goes off, making this critical process step traceable and reliable.

RFID on an extruder machine

FineLine, in collaboration with a leading tyre manufacturer, developed the first RFID solution for extruders and dies. Using a very small tag, every die is unique and can be associated with a type of tyre recipe. The machine recognises which materials are being produced and checks which die is placed in the machine (by using an RFID reader on the machine). When there is no match between type of rubber, tyre type and die, the extruder will not start. Using this solution, a manufacturing plant will eliminate costly mistakes as well as gain a new level of transparency and traceability within this critical manufacturing step. Machine recognises die by either handheld reader or stationary reader. Even search & find can occur within the die library.

RFID for factory material flow

Tyre components such as body, beads and tread are typically made or prepared in different areas of a tyre factory. All the materials need to make their way to a specific tyre building machine, at the right time and condition. The materials are transported in the factory on load carriers such as spools, bobbins and racks. Each load carrier is equipped with a RFID tag that has been specifically developed to be readable on metal and over various distances. The encoding of these tags is such that it is recognised throughout the production process as the specific load carrier or transporter. The moment the material (for example the rubber from the extruder) is loaded onto this load carrier we can follow the material through the whole process “as unique material.” This gives exclusive advantages in the entire process such as:
• Identifying the load carrier within temporary storage in the factory. This means that the right material for the right building machine can always be identified, regardless of how accurate or inaccurate the employee is.
• First-in first-out is made easy; the system tells the employee which material should be used first.
• The specific material can be recognised by the building machine.
Process steps for tyre building also become transparent and traceable- associating raw materials to extruder, die and load carrier.
An RFID label once applied to a load carrier offers full transparency throughout the processes

RFID on building machines

The integration of RFID with building machines is relatively simple. The machine has a RFID reader connected to the PLC or machine control interface of the machine. The building machine knows which type of tyre should be produced. The machine automatically checks by scanning RFID tags, attached to raw materials or on carriers with the raw materials, what materials are loaded in the machine. In addition, critical tools and machine parts can be tagged with RFID tags. This enables the machine to automatically check which tools are installed and which materials are loaded, and ensure they all match the production recipe. The machine does not start if any of the parts or materials are incompatible. This makes process step number four reliable, completely transparent, and traceable. There is still a relationship between the raw materials, the extruder, die, specific materials and each individual green tyre itself.
Every critical tool on the building machine has a RFID tag and can be associated to type of tyre.

Green tyre RFID bead label

When the green tyre is produced, it is automatically tagged and identified with a RFID barcode bead label (or other type of vulcanisable RFID tag), offered by FineLine. This label has the unique capability to be scanned by existing barcode systems as well as RFID readers, unique feature of our bead labels offering backward compatibility and simple transition to RFID technology. This solution allows for automatic association (creating a “mother/child relationship”) between the building machine materials, processes, operators all associated with each individual green tyre. From the moment the green tyre is built and tagged, it is uniquely identifiable within all subsequent processes. The green tyre can now be placed on a rack and tracked in anticipation of being vulcanised. The rack can also be tagged and identified as a storage location, creating an association with the tagged green tyre until it enters a curing press. In any case, it becomes nearly impossible for a tagged and tracked green tyre to be misplaced or sent to be vulcanised by the wrong press. Through process step, the manufacturing process is still 100% transparent.
Using the combination of RFID and barcode bead labels, manufacturers can implement RFID – step by step in a controlled manner.

Press, mold, segment, bladder management

As a green tyre arrives at a press, it is possible to establish a direct relationship between the press, mold, mold segments bladder and the green tyre via the RFID barcode bead label and “smart mold” and press solution. First we can check whether the correct mold and bladder are loaded into the correct press. It is also important, before the mold is loaded into the press, to verify whether the correct maintenance has been completed on the mold, the right segments have been applied in the correct order and whether the correct bead rings have been installed in the mold. FineLine has developed specific RFID tagging solution for molds through years of development and testing. This solution is designed specifically for molds, segments, bead rings, bladder plates and the identification and management of these critical tools. The tags are simply installed directly in the segments, bead rings and bladder ring. A special long range “mother tag” is installed on the mold container with which the different mold components are then associated, creating the “mother-child relationship.”
FineLine has developed a RFID mold tag, specifically for the mold application and was nominated for “The most innovative tyre application of the year 2017” by Tyre Technology International.
The design of this FineLine solution takes into account not only the harsh environment molds need to operate in during their useful life, or the RFID technology performance in the environment, but also the operating and business process flows of mold operations. For example, the segment tags have a reading distance optimised for the ability to scan them during mold assembly process and reliably determine the order of the individual segments in the mold. The tags developed by FineLine specifically for the molds, segments and bead rings have been tested repeatedly in the harsh tyre manufacturing environments, including cleaning processes and pre heating up to 280 degrees Celsius.
Every segment can be directly associated to the mold, the sequence can be checked, and the mold quickly and easily found within mold warehouse (up to 7 meters).
After vulcanisation of the tyre, all production data is linked to the individual tyre within the database. If a defect is found in the tyre during quality control (or even later in the life of the tyre), it is possible to identify tools used, process steps taken, material batches used and intervene directly in the upstream processes to prevent more tyres showing the same problem. Additionally, tyres from the same batch can be retrieved by means of the identification and search capability of the RFID bead label.
Within process, a direct relationship is created between raw materials, extruder, building machine, green tyre, press and the finished tyre.

RFID tread label

After the tyre rolls out of the press, passes the quality check, the RFID bead label is automatically scanned. This is the trigger to generate and apply an RFID tread label. This creates a one to one relationship between production data and the RFID tread label for logistics and inventory management applications. FineLine has developed an RFID tread label that can be scanned as far away as 7 meters, regardless of the type of tyre the label is applied on. This RFID tread label is specifically developed to support all logistics processes within the tyre industry such as: reading tyres in bulk while they are transported on a carrier rack, searching for specific tyres, tyre cycle counting, scanning tyres on conveyor systems or through dock doors, etc. In the warehouse, tagged tyres can be located and picked to fulfill a specific customer order. An automatic scan of those tyres as they are loaded onto a track can generate a detailed and accurate advanced shipping notice (ASN) and proof of shipment to the customer. When the tyres are received by the customer e.g. wholesaler, retailer or distributor, the RFID tags streamline the receiving process and the technology can provide further benefits within their warehouse operations.
The process is also transparent, extending to the end user.

New business models

In many situations organisations see RFID as a replacement of barcodes. When a business uses RFID as a smart barcode, then it’s an expensive barcode solution. Organisations that plan to use RFID should understand and evaluate what this new wireless technology can enable and also consider new business concepts, new service offerings and value added products that leverage RFID technology. The simple fact that a tyre can be recognized without line of site, in bulk, or when connected to a vehicle gives the opportunity to setup new business models and services to clients. In addition to the RFID bead label and the RFID tread label, FineLine has developed an aftermarket RFID solution which can be used to support new business models such as “Pay per Mile” and “Tyre as a Service”. This RFID foam solution can be applied to an existing tyre independent of a tyre producer. Having a reading distance of around 2 to 3 meters this RFID foam solution allows fleet managers to address challenges such as:
• Reliable identification and tracking of each individual tyre in their fleet, and this includes the ability to read the second tyre on the same axel.
• Identify and prove theft of fleet tyres. The RFID foam solution supports the automatic mother/ child relationship between vehicle, trailer, driver and tyres. By setting up an RFID gate at the entrance of a truck company, fleet managers can regularly track and identify their tyre assets as they enter and leave the company premises. The moment the truck leaves the premises the company’s relation between tyres/truck/driver is established. If the tyres are replaced or changed “the new tyres for old ones” an alarm goes off when the vehicle returns.
The RFID foam solution can be attached to the tyre independently from a tyre producer, proving invaluable for fleet owners. Depending on the type of tyre the foam solution can be applied on the inner liner or within the non-flexing zone of the outer sidewall.
Overall, the described solutions can be used within various production environments and types of tyres. There are also two different types of markets where RFID specifically can be maximised.

RFID for retreading market

Within the retreading market there are two major types of retreading processes: Hot retreading using a temperature of approximately 160 degrees Celsius within traditional molds. This process is used to retread of airplane tyres; and cold retreading process – which uses a temperatures of around 100 degrees Celsius and vacuum envelops to create pressure during the autoclave process.
The retreading market, especially within Asia, faces challenges such as:
• Cheap tyres which are entering the market, that do not meet government regulations, and cannot be retreaded. In many instances these tyres are cheaper than retreading a tyre
• The absence of compliance checks on incoming tyres, to make sure they comply with the standards and regulations of the country
• Small retreaders who “retread in the back yard” and do not comply with standards or regulations
• Bad reputation, based on automobile accidents resulting from poorly retreaded tyres. These accidents effect the reputable retreaders that deliver a good, quality product, and the retread industry as a whole.
The use of RFID within the retread market brings enormous benefits. Firstly, transparency within production logistics similar to the tyre manufacturing market, previously described.
Secondly, RFID can be used to check which tyre has been retreaded by which company. By using RFID, regulations and standards can be checked even after the tyre is already in use. Imported tyres should also be registered, which can be easily done by using an RFID tread label or bead label.
Another big advantage for retreaders is their direct contact with end-customers, independent of tyre brands. Retreaders can offer specialised solutions no individual tyre producer can offer.
FineLine is constantly developing new products for several different markets within the tyre industry. FineLine is currently in R&D, on specific solutions for retreading market such as an RFID bead label which can be applied on already vulcanised rubber to automatically store each production process within the retreading of tyres, and to identify retreaded tyres on a truck, automatically.

RFID within aircraft environment

The production of new aircraft tyres and the retreading of these tyres is highly regulated. Aircrafts spare parts are subject to compliance with regulations such as the ATA Spec 2000 created by the airline industry. The aviation industry has been one of the pioneers of RFID technology adoption and many aircraft parts are already identified and tracked using an RFID tag. A leading airline company and airliner services provider already requires aircraft tyre suppliers to apply an ATA Spec 2000 compliant RFID tread label on tyres they purchase. FineLine has developed a solution to automatically generate this 2kilobit code from the backend system of an aircraft tyre manufacturer and print and code the label to be compliant with the airline industry requirements. This code contains all types of production data and is therefore very meaningful. To continue to address these industry regulations FineLine has developed an RFID bead label which can be vulcanised onto new or retreaded aircraft tyres and meets the ATA Spec 2000 requirements.

Conclusion

RFID is changing the tyre industry for all the major players, including manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, retreaders, OEMs and more – across the entire ecosystem. The transparency and traceability provided by unique RFID codes that can be affixed at various stages, from production – tracking the mold and mold segments to coupling passenger vehicles or fleets is tremendous for the industry, worldwide.
FineLine is prepared to help the tyre industry move its production and sales process forward with the use of RFID products by innovative and transformative methods.

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