Radio frequency identification continues to push its way onto factory and warehouse floors and into finished inventory, helping automakers find and track components and equipment.
Putting a small, low-power transponder onto forklifts, parts bins or finished cars can save automakers money by taking uncertainty out of the supply chain and reducing the chance of error or forgetfulness when it comes to product location.
The devices receive data gathered from low-power, low-frequency tags attached to product.
The radio frequency identification, or RFID, tag signal is so slight that most other radio equipment dismisses it as noise. It's gathered in by a wireless network that can operate off a wireless Local Area Network identical to those that connect personal computers.
Tags on containers or finished vehicles broadcast their information every few minutes to keep the system refreshed about their location. When tagged products pass a doorway or other key point, a magnetic device about the size of a smoke detector, signals the tags to broadcast more rapidly.
One trade group, the Auto-ID Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (autoidcenter.org), has referred to this technology as an "Internet of things." The MIT center is dedicated to achieving an open-standard system that can become the accepted industry norm.
Kevin Ashton, executive director of the center, says several vendors are selling radio frequency identification products aimed at manufacturing. They include Savi Technology, Alien Technology, Matrics, Tagsys and Intermec, among others.