7 Ways RFID Could Improve Work In Process For Conveyor Systems

used parts and wheels - RFID

The everyday WIP bugs of manufacturing and logistical commerce are real, everywhere, and anything but fun. However, there might be an RFID solution that could help.

The little devils need to be banished. But how?

Enter RFID Work In Process technology. Using compatible software, RFID tags can relay real-time notifications and cause actions to take place to safeguard the manufacturing assets in your Work In Process.  

Using RFID tags, management can be proactive, in many cases, rather than reactive to abnormalities on the line. Worn parts in the mechanical flow of production, for example, can be detected by tag sensors and exchanged before an entire line shuts down and potentially affects production: product (mangled/disabled), labor (idle) and output (delayed).

Through analysis of the overall data gathered by an RFID system, entire line configurations related to WIP might be enhanced or changed for more efficiency since operations are made more visible through RFID technology: lead time always being an important consideration in commerce.

Using RFID to improve WIP management improves data accuracy, informs analysis, reduces labor time and increases rate of production.

Over time, the effective installation and use of the technology is bound to influence your bottom line although its value is often obscured by more perceptible remediation: better bearing maintenance is credited for efficiency rather than the tag data that indicated better bearing maintenance was needed. Without giving it its due praise, some companies market products with integrated RFID technology without acknowledging it as the basis for the wonders their products perform.

So, a little more specifically, how does RFID make for a more efficient WIP?

RFID Work In Process For Conveyor Systems

We've speculated previously on how RFID can help WIP applications in other areas but now let's take a look at a manufacturing specific application: a conveyor system.

Wikipedia states that the biggest bugs to watch for in overhead type conveyor systems are poor take-up adjustment, lack of lubrication, contamination, product handling problems, drivetrain problems, bad belt tracking and bad belt timing. Translated into more general terms, manufactures should look into wear, care, contamination, handling, oversight, tracking and timing to keep their WIP functional.  Not only do these bugs cause problems for overhead type conveyor systems, but similar bugs attack systems in general. Yet, because of binary commands placed within RFID tags in anticipation of such irritants, the bugs can be dealt with early on to save your ROI.

Conveyor Wear

Take, for instance, chain take-up devices on conveyor systems. These can become slack over time as their spring force lessens causing jams on the production line. RFID tagging can remedy the problem in one of two ways: through increased mechanization causing automatic tightening of the springs or it can alert human intervention through computer alerts.  Take-up adjustment can also manage belt systems to prevent major upheavals in WIP.

Assembly Line Care with RFID

One of the luxuries rough RFID tagging affords is that it can withstand extreme conditions. WIP products often go through ovens, paint chambers, acidic baths, etc. on its way to completion.  The chain bearings transporting goods through these extreme environments require lubrication in order to reduce friction and reduce chain pull. Lubrication monitored through RFID tagging and, consequently, done by need or cycle saves bearings exposed to such conditions.  Belts and rollers also need to be monitored. Through radio frequency transmission, well placed rugged sensor tags detect abnormalities even in acidic, alkaline, and abrasive conditions enabling work to be done and relaying warnings when the work isn’t being done well.

Contamination Alerts Using RFID

Belts impregnated with RFID tags can monitor the contamination building on surfaces so care can be taken as they carry products that vary in production of and distribution of debris or when they are being transported through a debris laden field like that encountered in a paint chamber. Likewise, other surfaces can be checked for contamination. When monitored, technicians can take measures to reduce inherent  pitting and slippage. Tags can be read though contaminates and, in fact, are read regularly through paint and mud in many WIP situations.


Conveyor systems, especially used in warehousing and distribution, handle and disperse a wide variety of goods.  To eliminate jams, product and machine damage and downtime, RFID tagging allows for mechanical adjustments to take place in WIP to accommodate each unique run as to size, weight, and shape of product.  Computer inspired alignment and changes in conveyor points where components merge or separate are often instrumented more accurately through automation than through human intervention. Over and over again, RFID controlled switches along the line divert or combine materials and products by conforming to the run’s computer program. The RFID tags route products into correct channels as they pass a reader.  If a product is damaged or mislabeled, the product leaves the system having been detected a deviant because RFID tagging didn’t correspond to the WIP.


Based on comprehensive RFID and optical identification systems, the ability to have an overall view of the drivetrain in the WIP cannot be overemphasized. RFID tags, readers and the systems to which they connect run operations, detect inconsistencies, identify machine components  and pinpoint the location of potential and actual breakdowns. Where human servicing is required to maintain intrical machinery parts not tagged, tagged tools and, when appropriate, tagged workers, can testify that servicing has been done as required-a benefit to management and to workers-which places scrutiny of the breakdown on other aspects of production.

Tracking with RFID

Most commonly, RFID tagging systems have been associated with speed and timing. To control WIP, especially when a bottleneck is anticipated, an RFID tag can track the speed at multiple belt runs allowing variances according to tag directives. When speed of a belt is out of control in one or more of the belts, alerts are sent to workers on the floor (possibly by flashing lights) or to management. Tracking, however, can also refer to knowledge of where a product or other input is anywhere in the WIP, an answer RFID is particularly good at providing.


Timing too is important. Much like cars merging into a single line for lunchtime takeout, assembly line products must merge with precision or collide and disrupt the day- or the WIP.  RFID tagging facilitates a merge.

Now, again, lest you think, RFID enhanced WIP eradicates bugs in only one type of conveyor system, consider how it might eradicate similar bugs in gravity conveyors, belt conveyor, chain conveyors, vertical conveyor-and the list goes on . . . .

Or, think about how it might be used in a system you manage: your delivery service, your hospital lab, your school-and the list goes on. . . .

Managing a conveyor system to maintain peak performance in light of WIP’s little bugs like pitting, slippage, jams, wear, overload . . . is a challenge. And so are the little bugs in your WIP.  Since the little devils can fiddle with the life of WIP and your business by shutting it down periodically and halting production, finding a good defense is in order. After considering all plans of attack, RFID incorporated into your WIP just might be the answer to eradication.

Minor bugs aside, in the manufacturing process, RFID technology is effective in implementing better production times, fewer errors, better routing information, and  real-time asset tracking. How else might it serve to make your operation more efficient?  

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