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Reloaded: The RFID vision of Volvo

Use Cases | By PR RFID & Wireless IoT Global | 17 November 2015
The “one unique position“ concept – the standardized positioning of the RFID tag at the front left crash box – establishes a high flexibility comparable with rather cheap tags and unified infrastructure that is based on a system platform. This is why Volvo is going to roll out this concept globally. The “one unique position“ concept – the standardized positioning of the RFID tag at the front left crash box – establishes a high flexibility comparable with rather cheap tags and unified infrastructure that is based on a system platform. This is why Volvo is going to roll out this concept globally. Photo: Volvo

RFID tags are far more than just a production tool! Being a part of the vehicle design, they can create added value for after-sale services

Since 2004, Volvo Cars has been committing itself to the “one unique tag” strategy and is strictly following this philosophy when rolling-out RFID globally under guidance from their European headquarters. The proven RFID systems were already fully integrated in the production site in Chengdu, China. Two more implementations in Chinese sites are planned for 2016. “However, new manufacturing processes required an adaption of the concept and the positioning of the tag,” explains Yvan Jacquet, Project Manager, Volvo Car Gent. The vision of the Swedish car manufacturer: The integration of RFID tags as a part of the vehicle design.

Yvan Jacquet, Project Manager - Data & RFID, Volvo Car Gent

A clear global RFID roll-out concept

“Right from the beginning, Volvo had a clear RFID strategy: To use one permanent transponder throughout the whole production line. This UHF tag is affixed to the shock absorber system (“crash box”) below the bumper that is located on the chassis above the left front tyre and will remain there during the entire production process. All reading points of the RFID system on the assembly line were installed in a way that the tag is always read in the same position. We deploy this concept based on a platform solution for all six vehicle models and transfer it to all our new factories in China,” explains Yvan Jacquet.

Yvan JacquetYvan Jacquet “So far, RFID technology has been seen as a production tool. We say: The RFID is no mere production tool but should be regarded as a component that is an integral part of the design right from the beginning, like a seat or steering wheel!”

Changing the strategy: Optimising the affixture of the transponder

Volvo regards itself as a pioneer of the “one unique position” concept and has been sharing insights with other very car manufacturers who were very interested. However, since the beginning of 2015, this concept no longer applies to the new Volvo models based on SPA platform as the project manager clearly states: “For some models, the spot on the car body that had been used for the tags so far is no longer available in welding shop since bumper beam will be placed in final assembly shop. Therefore we need to relocate the tag during process. Furthermore, the transponder is more and more surrounded with integrated electronics such as sensors. It is more and more difficult to guaranty the UHF reading performances. This forfeits some of our concept’s benefits. Since this is not a satisfying solution in the long-term; we must rethink the positioning of the tag.“

The vision of Volvo Cars: RFID tags as a part of the design

So, which transponder position is optimal for consistent identification? A question that, in regard to the new method of producing vehicles – the bumper suspension is assembled in the final step – equally concerns all car manufacturers. With this innovative approach, the Swedish automotive manufacturer wants to take a pioneering role once again: “We have been in intensive discussion with the R&D department since 2014, regarding whether and how we can install the tag directly inside the vehicle. So far, RFID technology has been seen as a production tool that has to follow the design of the vehicle. We say: The RFID is no mere production tool but should be regarded as a component that is an integral part of the design, like a seat or steering wheel!”

The future: Use the added-value of RFID for after.sales services

In the eyes of the RFID specialist, there is a weighty argument in favour: “Already, around three million Volvos are equipped with a transponder. So, the technical requirements to use these tags for after-sales services as well has already been met,” explains Jacquet and elaborates: “However, as long as the tags aren’t regarded as a part of the vehicle, car dealers won’t use the tag, thus missing the chance to create added value for the customer.” Could this be a potential data protection issue? Yvan Jacquet says no. “There is only the 7-digit serial number of the vehicle written on the tag. All chassis data lies in a central database. Of course, guaranteeing secure access to the database for dealers will be an important aspect we have to work on in the future.” In order to use the RFID ID flexibly in downstream processes such as locating during vehicle distribution – temporary storage and loading – Volvo is considering deploying an RTLS system.

Is using the IDs of already tagged bumpers an option?

An option that the team lead by Yvan Jacquet is also evaluating is using the RFID tags that were already integrated into the bumpers by the suppliers in order establish consistent tracking throughout the suppliers’ manufacturing processes. In an RFID pilot project in Gent, Volvo cars in cooperation with their supplier Plastal (now Faurecia) test how the tag of the bumper can be used in Volvo’s production. However, this is a long-term project and full integration will only be realisable for the new vehicle models that will be manufactured in two or three years. Yet the automotive manufacturer is thinking ahead: “Today, we already have to take into account the analysis that the number of parts tagged by suppliers could quickly increase – not only for the bumpers but across the entire factory.”

What is Volvo’s policy on standards?

Volvo also plans to tag subcomponents itself, as Jacquet explains. “The number of subcomponents that were tagged is small so far, but it could increase within a few months or years – without knowing, there would be many different IDs in the vehicle then,” says Jacquet. In the eyes of the RFID specialist, that fact that Volvo is using proprietary data structure and no EPC code is unproblematic as there are standards in place. “The only thing that can happen is to have two identical IDs somewhere around the world, but this risk is statistically totally insignificant.”

Last modified on Tuesday, 17 November 2015 12:38
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