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Flexible Manufacturing
automation blog

Traceability in Automotive: What decision-makers and experts should look out for now

Published on 23 May, 2022 in Flexible Manufacturing

From e-mobility to autonomous driving, from skills shortages to digitalization: The automotive industry is undergoing a profound change, marked, for example, by a shift to globalized platforms and standardized vehicle architectures. On the one hand, production is becoming increasingly efficient, but on the other, even a single faulty part can have more far-reaching effects than ever before. Faced with costly recalls, automotive manufacturers are confronted with increasingly complex requirements and stricter specifications. Is the effort of traceability worth it if it means labeling up to 20,000 parts per vehicle? Yes, it is, but powerful reading and verification technologies along with powerful software is needed to make sense of all the data.

There are several reasons why manufacturers need to keep accurate records of the parts and components that make up a new car. From a quality perspective, for example, barcode tracking helps to ensure that the right parts are put together. Even more important, however, is the ability to trace each car part back to its original supplier. In the event of a recall or the discovery of a faulty part, manufacturers have to be able to quickly and comprehensively find out where each part came from. This is complemented by information such as batch number, date of manufacture and other important information to identify which vehicles are affected by a defective part. Recommendations and standards from AIAG, VDA, ANSI and ISO specify the details. As the automotive industry globalizes, worldwide production of light vehicles is expected to reach around 96 million units  by 2023. This means that even a single faulty part can have an enormous impact, and therefore must be prevented at all costs.

So why is traceability important?

Documenting the origin and history of parts is vital to ensure fast and cost-efficient recalls. If the origin of a part isn’t completely documented, many more vehicles have to be recalled than necessary, increasing costs significantly. Other key benefits include:
  • Traceability minimizes counterfeiting because genuine parts can be traced back to their origin.
  • Streamlining the manufacturing process with direct part identification, labels or RFID tags , as real-time traceability systems transmit process information along all tiers of the manufacturing process enabling supply chain optimization and reduced lead times. They monitor and compare production lines, providing the data needed to find out which production steps are taking longer than expected and the reasons why.
  • Some manufacturers spread the cost of manufacturing equipment and product development over a broader production base, especially in large corporations. The downside: a single faulty – or counterfeit – component can have a huge impact. Reliable traceability systems are therefore more important than ever before. The large supplier system created by the globally standardized architecture requires real-time visibility so that problems can be fixed quickly before they affect millions of new cars entering the market.

Compact barcode readers needed

Barcodes help guarantee that every part carries a unique identifier with it wherever it goes. This is usually a direct part marking (DPM), etched or printed directly on the part itself. Amongst the key pieces of data encoded for traceability purposes in the automotive industry are information such as part, serial, lot or model number. Other information that could be encoded in barcodes are source manufacturer, place of origin, production time and date, expiration date, manufacturing or assembly facility, components used in assembly and / or software version.
Whenever a code is read on the factory floor, the traceability system transmits that data to a manufacturing execution system (MES) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, helping to correctly bundle parts and control other elements of the production line in a data-driven manner. Traceability is used to label powertrain components with specific dimensions to ensure a perfect fit. Automation of processes significantly reduces the likelihood of errors in this context. powerful readers should be able to read a wide range of codes without complex software installation and even if the code is distorted, fading or damaged.
To ensure that every part carries the required data, some barcodes need to be particularly small with high readability. As with damaged codes, tiny codes require high-performance barcode readers that can read data with the required speed and accuracy. As more and more markings are applied earlier in the manufacturing process, they are increasingly likely to be damaged in the harsh conditions of the factory. Exposure to heat, splashes or caustic industrial chemicals can damage barcodes – even if they have been applied using a permanent method such as laser marking. To confirm that barcodes are of good quality and remain readable throughout the life of the part, manufacturers can set up a barcode verification system to evaluate them against international standards such as ISO/IEC 29158. Diagnostic tools in the verification software should also provide troubleshooting information to adjust the marking devices and improve barcode quality. These barcode verifiers can be used for DPMs as well as traditional labels.

Fiber laser marking and embedded SQL clients

One important technology for reliable traceability is fiber laser marking [insert link: https://industrial.omron.eu/en/solutions/food-beverage-industry/applications/laser-marking]: machines that can apply exceptionally high-resolution and highly durable marks to a wide range of materials. In this context, OMRON's MX-Z series is particularly easy to integrate with other systems and controls, making marking more flexible. Another helpful technology approach is embedded SQL- or MQTT clients to transfer data directly to an SQL database or another system, so controllers can process traceability data without compromising machine control performance.

Conclusion: Traceability integral part of modern production

Traceability systems provide a way to put process changes in context and analyze the effects they have on the quality of the resulting product. They help identify risks, reduce their impact, and generally maintain a state of constant vigilance.. Although traceability may seem complex, its underlying structure is relatively simple. By affixing unique barcodes to works-in-progress and scanning these codes throughout the assembly process, manufacturers can gather and store significant amounts of data on the whereabouts and history of each item at each point in time.

Automotive manufacturers are currently facing a variety of pressing and complex challenges that require comprehensive and reliable documentation and traceability. To be future-proof and competitive, companies therefore need powerful automation and robotics solutions paired with smart and integrated traceability solutions such as laser markers, barcode readers, barcode verifiers and controllers that can capture and analyze data without interfering with production.

OMRON’s portfolio of traceability solutions

OMRON’s global portfolio of traceability products and solutions is integrated, intelligent, and interactive. The company’s complete automation platform features programmable logic controllers, motion controllers, machine vision systems, safety technology, and robotics to facilitate a complete traceability solution for data management, inspection, and material handling. The IoT enabled devices communicate data seamlessly with each other and across multiple data layers within an organization (MES or ERP). Further information: http://industrial.omron.eu.
OMRON technology to improve traceability in the automotive industry

OMRON fiber laser marker MX-Z2000H series for high quality, fast and permanent marking for metals, plastics/resins and other materials.

OMRON MicroHAWK with weblink software for precision traceability and inspection solutions.

OMRON Sysmac SQL and MQTT enabled controllers for easy data collection and interfacing

Contact Omron specialists

Do you have any questions or would you like personal advice? Feel free to contact one of our specialists.
  • Nico Hooiveld

    Nico Hooiveld

    EMEA Market Manager at Omron Industrial Automation Europe