RFID and the IIoT for Industrial Tool Tracking

2020.12.17.

While nearly every industry uses power drills, screw guns and other standard handheld tooling, some make use of specialized tools, which are often expensive and difficult to supply. Securing these tools from theft and being able to quickly locate them is critical for the manufacturing process. With smart, technology-driven tool-tracking solutions, managing these tools becomes faster and more efficient.

The Technology Kit

The technological enablers of smart tool tracking are radio frequency identification and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). RFID serves as a source of data about tools' locations, properties and movements, while the IIoT is used for storing, processing and analyzing the data fetched from RFID tags.

RFID

A typical RFID system includes three components: tags, antennas and readers.
• RFID tags serve as object identifiers. Each tag has a unique ID number that is correlated with information about the object to which a tag is attached, and this data is stored in the cloud. For tool tracking,passive tags are typically used, as they are smaller, cheaper and more mobile. To be able to transmit data, such tags should be supplied with the power from an RFID reader (as opposed to active tags, which do not require power from a reader to be able to transmit data).
• RFID antennas are used to transfer a radio signal to and from readers.
• RFID readers supply the energy for the tags and receive a radio signal back from them. A reader catches radio signals from tags, extracts their IDs, correlates them with the locations of the readers and the time of the reading, and relays the extracted information to the cloud.

The IIoT

The analytics component of the IIoT turns the data fetched from RFID systems into insights about the availability, movements and usage history of each tool. Once analyzed, the data is visualized and displayed to solution users in the form of, say, live tool availability maps.

The Approach

Lightweight asset-tracking solutions based on RFID and IIoT optimize tool tracking from several perspectives. They allow the checking of tool availability and location, as well as the controlling of employee access to specialized assets.

For that, each asset is labeled with an RFID tag, and data regarding each asset is saved to a data warehouse. To enable tool tracking throughout a manufacturing facility (for instance, at tool zone entrances or at the exits), RFID readers are installed to scan the tags. Once a tool passes a reader, the device fetches the tool's ID and transmits it to the cloud.

The cloud software processes the incoming ID, states the location of the respective tool, and presents the findings to employees via the Web or mobile user applications. If an employee needs a certain tool, he or she can use a mobile app to check that item's availability and location, then book it.

To prevent unauthorized access to specialized tooling, employees can also wear RFID tags. This way, the reader scans the tags of both the work and the tool. The cloud-based software checks employee record and determines whether he or she is allowed to use that particular tool.

Source: RFID Journal