BMW Uses RFID in Regensburg Assembly Plant
The BMW facility in Regensburg, Germany recently received a major upgrade. The plant is now employing an RFID- based real-time location system, or RTLS in order to match the cars being assembled with the proper tools needed to perform the job. This automated system provides each BMW with custom assembly based on the VIN number, allowing for a more accurate and precise process. The RTLS also allows BMW to track the location of each car and tool within 6 inches throughout the 1.2 miles of assembly line, virtually eliminating lost and misplaced items.
Since most BMW buywers prefer customized cars, each vehicle is assembled according the individuals’ needs with options such as specific interiors, seats and engine parts for each order. In the past, providing such customized instructions to the line operators was a challenge, but now each station employs the BMW Tool Assistance System (TAS), which combines tool-controlling software with RTLS technology in order to better instruct line operators.
The TAS system allows BMW to identify each vehicle as it moves through the assembly line, in addition to recognizing its location and all of the tools needed to be used on the car. When an empty BMW shell enters the assembly line, a worker encodes its VIN number onto a RFID tag and places it onto the vehicles hood. From there, the tag transmits the car’s VIN number though a series of short signals. Tags are also placed on tools, so once a reader captures a tool’s tag ID number, it transmits the data to the system via a cabled connection. The TAS software then integrates the tags’ location with the existing IBS tool-control system, which sends the appropriate instructions to the tools being used on that specific tagged car.
Once the factory’s quality-control department approves the vehicle, the RFID tag is removed and the BMW emblem is placed on the hood. The RFID tag can then be reused on another car, ultimately saving the company money.
While the system has drastically improved the way things are done at BMW, there were many challenges they had to face before achieving their results. Perhaps the largest challenge was ensuring that the RFID tags could be read accurately in such a metallic environment, since metal can make tag reading difficult. However, once the system was set up, it became extremely valuable to know and pinpoint the location of each tool needed throughout the process. In fact, tool manufacturers are now in the process of embedding RFID tags into their tools before they ever even reach a customer, ultimately hoping to make RFID a reality for everyone.