Smart Business

Volvo: From RFID to IoT

The road ahead Volvo consolidated multiple tracking methods into a single approach applicable across the manufacturing operation and potentially beyond.

At Volvo in Ghent, a long relationship with RFID has helped create the foundation for IoT and now, with more available data, the company is looking at ways to share and leverage the data using big data analytics. According to Yvan Jacquet, data communications and RFID concept project manager, Volvo Cars in Ghent, the company started implementing RFID in 1995, long before talk of the Smart Factory.

From RFID to IoT: Yvan Jacquet Volvo

Yvan Jacquet: If you change the tag, you have to change something else.

The primary idea was simply to identify the car within manufacturing and report its location. From an IT perspective, it was really focused on the production activity. All the data were located between the RFID and the programmable logic controller (PLC) level. “There wasn’t really much integration,” Jacquet says. Historically, he notes, the best RFID was generally seen as the one providing the highest amount of memory because the trend was to have all the data located on the device and have the device mounted on the car. The focus was on the production function, not on logistics. That, he says, was the status Smart Business title Story: internet of think quo for almost 15 years. But the status quo wasn’t an entirely happy place. “We quickly discovered that when one of the vendors of the RFID tags changed the product or it got to the end of its life, it would be a tremendous amount of work to change because everything relied on the way it worked. “If you changed the tag, you have to change something else. It was tremendous work to switch from one product to another and actually that was the root of the changes that were decided in 2004,” says Jacquet. “That was when one of the main RFID vendors Volvo was using decided to quit production of the product. We were facing a difficult situation; how could the team change 200 readers in the whole factory all in one shot? Instead, we started to analyze why we had so many different RFID solutions in the company – we found more than ten and maintaining them all was tricky,” Jacquet says. From that point, he says, the company decided to change completely and standardize around one single system that fits all over the welding shop, the paint shop, and final assembly.

That solution turned out to be RAIN RFID from Confdex and Impinj. Working with those two companies Volvo consolidated multiple tracking methods into a single approach applicable across the manufacturing operation and potentially beyond. One immediate challenge was improving RFID performance in challenging environments, where machinery and physical space constraints reduced the predictability of radio signals.

Volvo From RFID to IoT Global Strategy Info graphic

Steering toward automation: The system ties into production-steering systems and provides the highly flexible and global data handling that facilities in different countries require.

Particularly to support growing levels of vehicle customization, Volvo wanted to uniquely and accurately identify vehicles throughout the production cycle. Its original adoption of RFID was a start but more recently, Volvo turned to a simplified RAIN RFID solution from Confdex and Impinj to enable asset tracking from the paint shop to the point of final assembly.

Jacquet says that with the enhanced system, it is possible to store quality reports for every activity, right down to individual spot welds. “Now the amount of data that we store is more than a thousand times greater than when we started,” he says.

Although Volvo didn’t start with a vision of the Smart Factory, by taking smaller steps it has ended up there, he says. Much of the system beyond the tags themselves was developed internally at the Ghent site and has since been adopted by other operations. More data has turned out to be a good thing across manufacturing and is now helping to inform purchasing, logistics, and other areas, potentially including RPA.

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