A new RFID data management system developed at NTNU can help make Norwegian companies more competitive, the developers say.

Putting RFID technology to work

From Finnish hockey players to London double-decker buses to rhino horns, the humble RFID chip is hard at work. New software can help companies harness the power of this tiny technology.

The humble radio frequency identification tag, commonly called an RFID chip, has been around for decades, but the applications for this versatile little device continue to grow.

The Finnish hockey team has used them to track player movements. Some London double decker buses use them to monitor tire pressures. The Namibian government has attached them to rhino horns to thwart poachers. And researchers have even glued tiny RFID chips to ants to study the insects in detail.

But some companies have yet to fully realize what can be done with RFID technology, says Kesheng Wang, a professor in the Department of Production and Quality Engineering at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Wang and his colleagues at the university’s Knowledge Discovery Laboratory have worked with Shanghai University to develop a new kind of software called PROdog that allows manufacturers to exploit the power of Intelligent and Integrated RFID systems (II-RFID) right on the manufacturing floor.

Kesheng Wang and Quan Yu in the Knowledge Discovery Lab at NTNU

Kesheng Wang (right), a professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Department of Production and Quality Engineering and his PhD candidate, Quan Yu, show off the RFID management system in the university’s Knowledge Discovery Lab. Photo: Nancy Bazilchuk

Supply chain versus manufacturing process

Many companies already use RFID chips – but most are used to manage supply chains to optimize access to inventory, Wang says. The power of the II-RFID system is that it allows companies to use RFID technology and collect real-time data on the manufacturing floor.

“You could gather data on time of manufacture and number and time of quality checks, for example,” Wang says. “With each step, you can enter the information automatically by a chip, or use humans to enter data on the chip.

PROdog, the management system developed by the NTNU-Shanghai team, allows companies to do production planning as well as quality control. It’s especially useful for smaller manufacturing companies that may not have yet invested in expensive planning tools, Wang said.

“The RFID chip provides real-time data to different databases, and can be integrated into warehouse management systems (WMS), manufacturing executing systems (MES) or enterprise resource planning (ERP),” he said. “This real-time data then becomes a part of your decision support data – you get the knowledge you need to support decision making and management level activities.”

Looking for partners

Use of a II-RFID system can help boost competitiveness in the Norwegian manufacturing sector, Wang says, which is particularly important in a country where some costs, such as high wages, may be disadvantageous in global competition. It will also be increasingly important as demands for traceability increase, he said.

PROdog gives users access to information that allows for product management, engineering management, manufacturing flows management and data-based statistical analysis – all of which also improve competitiveness.

Wang and his PhD candidate Quan Yu are looking for Norwegian companies willing to try out the system in the Knowledge Discovery Lab.  Interested companies would be asked to fund a project and the lab would do the testing, Wang said. Hansen Protection AS, a company that primarily makes survival suits for the offshore and marine sector, is interested, he said, as is GKN Aerospace.