Column: RFID is transforming the tire industry

- Jun 29, 2018-

Radio frequency identification is being adopted rapidly in a growing number of tire industry processes and will deliver more transparency, fewer rejected tires and production failures and better control of materials.

Major tire producers are investigating new technologies to support their internal production processes and to gather more data per process step for individual tires. During the last 10 years, RFID has emerged as the answer to the industry's problem. It is a technology which will rapidly change the tire industry by supporting improvement of the overall quality of individual tires.

Furthermore, large volumes of data will be gathered to support decisions with better intelligence. RFID is the booster for the "Industry 4.0 Development."

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An RFID chip, or tag, is a equipped with an antenna. This antenna mostly is applied on a carrier such as a PET, polypropylene, paper or, in case of tires, sometimes rubber or dipped mesh materials. The ultra-high frequency class one Gen2 has been certified as the world standard for passive (without a battery) RFID tags.

A comprehensive RFID solution always contains the RFID tag, software and a handheld or stationary reader including antennas. When a tag passes the reading field of an antenna, it reads the tag and sends the unique identification number back to the system. This can be a speedy process with up to 300 of these identifications per second.

In comparison to identification by bar codes there are a range of benefits. There is no line-of-sight needed between the reader and the tag. Identification can occur in bulk, up to 150 tires in one scan. And the distance from which RFID tags can be read is more flexible than for bar codes, from zero up to several feet.

The tire industry recognizes these benefits and several solutions based on RFID technology have been defined in the past few years.

As a professional rubber manufacturer, Shenyang Sunnyjoint Chemicals Co., Ltd. will focus these new techniques in the tire industry.

A range of RFID solutions for different phases of the tire production and logistics processes have been patented. Those solutions are all based on the same concept of a tag applied to an object, read by a reader and stored in a database. The challenge for a successful implementation lies in dealing with the complex and harsh environment of tire manufacturing. A number of solutions have addressed these factors and are available in the market.

In mixing processes, RFID labels can be applied on the big bags of chemicals, rubber and an RFID reader fixed on the loader. The moment the wrong chemicals are recognized by the reader the loader will stop, and an alarm is activated. Mistakes can, therefore, be prevented before they occur.

RFID can support the management of tire-making machines, machine parts and tools. The type of tire is stored in a database and associated with different tools.

If an RFID reader is placed in the tire building machine, and the machine is planned to build a specific type of tire; using RFID tags integrated into the parts and tools, the machine will recognize if the correct tools are loaded to build the tire to specifications. If there is no match, then the machine does not start.

In mold management, all segments, bead rings, container and molds can be fitted with an integrated RFID tag protected by the component itself. Using RFID, a parent/child relationship is created between the mold, bead rings and segments. The parent/child relation makes it easy to count the sequence of the segments within the mold.

The parent has a very long reading distance and can be used to identify the mold in the mold warehouse. This solution survives the harsh "mold processes" such as dry-ice cleaning, ultrasonic cleaning, welding, pre-heating (up to 260°C) and the normal use within production. Having a tag on the press provides greater transparency, as the mold is coupled to the press.

RFID also can be used to support material flow within the factory. Placing an RFID tag on a carrier, such as a trolley, matches material with a specific carrier. Therefore, material flows will be transparent and can be recognized by the machines and easily located within the factory.

Lifecycle

The use of vulcanizable RFID tags on each tire controls the complete lifecycle of the tire from building machine, vulcanization, coupling with the end-user and finally through to the scrapping of the used tire.

Customized RFID aftermarket labels have been developed to support fleet-management, set up anti-theft solutions and to develop pay-per-mile, pay-per-use or other new commercial business models. By creating a slot in a new or existing tire even small tire companies, such as retreaders and repair shops, can offer local fleets new business models.

RFID tread labels give the opportunity to address logistics challenges such as first-in, first-out, identifying unique/individual tires in the warehouse, inventory management, automatic coupling for orders, loading the trucks (proof-of-delivery) up to inventory in the shop, identifying gray imports, matching a tire to an end-user, and easily support the recall process.

Industry 4.0, new business models, end-user data and a need for full transparency are among the triggers for developing an RFID strategy. As the original equipment market demands full transparency into the production logistics and overall product quality, test reports and good tires at a low price are no longer enough.

RFID also helps with regulatory compliance. Within the United Arab Emirates, current law requires individual tire production data be directly associated with a car and therefore, an end-user. This can be achieved by bar code or QR code, but certainly more easily with RFID. These regulations are expected to be implemented within a number of other regions.

Distributors and fleet owners are recognizing more and more the value of RFID to support their processes. Soon distributors will demand tire producers apply a customized RFID tread label. And fleet owners will ask for customized, embedded RFID tags.

To support these processes, demands, and concepts, the tire mold and/or material carrier needs an RFID identifier This can be difficult given a harsh environment like the tire industry.

The tag, for each purpose, needs to endure environmental stresses including steam, heat, steel and use. Leading RFID technology companies, such as FineLine Technologies, are investing and developing RFID tag solutions that are thoroughly tested and specialized for these purposes.

Implementation process

The tire industry is one of the most conservative, because no manufacturer wants to risk changing the construction of a tire or the processes related to building a tire. Therefore, introducing new technologies needs to be carefully structured and based on a solid plan.

The road map should be based on the results from detailed workshops and pilots executed with the marketing and sales, production logistics, warehousing and information/technology departments. These workshops typically uncover "low hanging fruit," which are easily solved with solutions that are quickly implemented, solve major challenges and provide significant return on investment.

Solutions may include the definition of new business models like fleet-management, or even improving warehousing and logistics, creating greater transparency within production. Parallel projects can be started, such as RFID in molds or the development of an RFID tag embedded in the tire itself.

Even within production logistics, however, easy and safe implementation of RFID solutions can be designed. For example, applying an RFID bead label on a green truck tire at the building machine gives the opportunity to still use the current bar code but also the benefits of RFID at the same time.

Bar code readers within the process would, in this case, be replaced by RFID readers and extra data entries can be created by adding more RFID readers within the process. Implementation can proceed smoothly without any interference to current processes or risk.

RFID is changing the tire industry for the better, the technology is certainly maturing, and regulations are influencing manufacturers to make the required changes and implement RFID to provide further transparency into the tire supply chain.

The business cases proving the benefits of applying RFID tags to tires for improving transparency and overall quality of the tire have been tested and proven time and time again.

Now the industry must take one step further: The implementation of an RFID tag, which is able to maintain its integrity under the stresses of vulcanization, steam and cleaning that are part of the process.