Take a close look or you could miss them. Most RFID chips are no larger than an ordinary barcode but they are packed with information.
Cars and RFIDs: How Do They Go Together?
The headquarters of the AutoID Center are located in a building at the Technical Development facility. Here, experts are working hard on the “transparent prototype”. “RFID is a radio technology. Information can be written on the chips and read out without needing any physical or visual contact, explains RFID expert Florian Peppel. “These little chips help us produce prototypes.”
During the development of a new car, prototypes are regularly assembled to test components and functions. Each prototype has thousands of individual parts ranging from small items like screws, cables and steel plates to components that are especially important because they are relevant for safety, environmental protection or testing. Each of the components is frequently modified as development work proceeds. It is all the more important to have information on the development status of each part during the development process in order to avoid any errors. “Previously, we recorded the components installed on our prototypes manually,” says Peppel. This work was very time-consuming.
Together, the team at the AutoID Center considered how to make things easier. The idea was as follows: component suppliers glue RFID chips to the parts they supply to Volkswagen. These chips contain all the key information such as part, supplier and serial numbers. They lay the foundation for a digital component life history. Even before the suppliers dispatch their parts, Volkswagen receives the digital information and can prepare its incoming parts logistics unit for delivery.
When the parts arrive at our center, they pass through one of the 10 RFID gates in Technical Development,” Peppel explains. The parts with their RFID information are automatically recognized and recorded by the warehousing system.
In the assembly hall, the prototypes are assembled in the usual way by workers. There is just one major difference. When a prototype has been completed, there is no need to scan the barcodes. The prototype simply rolls out of the hall and passes through a further RFID gate. Thanks to the RFID chips, it is immediately clear what parts are installed. Over the years, the experts from Technical Development have equipped many different prototypes with radio technology. This makes the assembly of prototypes more efficient and eliminates possible errors.
A Digital Component Life History
About 280 suppliers are already connected to the system and equip their components with RFID chips. Group brands Audi and Porsche have also joined the project.
The good idea has set an example: what started in 2011 as an initiative of the Volkswagen brand prototype centre and overall vehicle development has now become the largest RFID project in the car industry, crossing the boundaries of individual companies. About 280 suppliers are already connected to the system and equip their components with RFID chips. Group brands Audi and Porsche have also joined the project. Volkswagen has performed real pioneering work on the “transparent prototype”. All hardware and software standards are developed jointly with suppliers and are grouped together in recommendation issued by Verband der Automobilindustrie (the German automobile industry association). They therefore apply to all carmakers. Politicians have also taken note and have honored the project as a successful example of digitally networked cooperation between companies. It is one of the reference projects of the Industry 4.0 platform.
RFID technology has also made a breakthrough outside prototype production. In some sections of production, RFID chips are already used, for example in body assembly. And this is by no means the end of the story. Investigations are now underway concerning the use of RFID chips on a seamless basis throughout the company. Experts are considering the use of RFID chips in future to simplify the documentation of safety-relevant components in production that is required by law.