Products and Services engineering 2010 Smart car parts save money and the environment
A car that can tell mechanics what is wrong with it would improve road safety and reduce repair and maintenance costs for drivers. Such a vehicle is one application of a new kind of product life-cycle management (PLM) system.
Closed-loop PLM, as it is known, allows a product – be it a car, a locomotive or a piece of factory equipment – to be monitored throughout its life.
To achieve that goal, European researchers involved in the PROMISE project are using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags embedded in product components to transmit information wirelessly at short range.
The RFID tags, a type of product-embedded information device, are similar to the electronic labels commonly used by stores to protect merchandise from theft but can contain a lot more information about the product.
A better, cheaper car service
In one demonstration of the technology, the PROMISE team embedded the tags into a specially adapted Fiat car and used them to transmit information to mechanics about the wear and tear on different parts.
To gather the data, the vehicle simply needs to be driven over a one-metre square servicing pad fitted with an ultra-high frequency reader and four antennae. The pad compares part numbers to manufacturer information stored in a database.
Mechanics can then instantly determine which parts are nearing the end of their useful life and which may need to be replaced.
This information helps prevent them from overlooking the replacement of old parts during servicing, but it can also stop them from replacing parts unnecessarily. The technology can therefore help reduce maintenance costs. Used in a car owner’s garage, the system would help ensure their car remains in tip-top condition.
Keeping good parts from the scrap heap
In addition, when the car is to be scrapped, the RFID tags would help prevent unnecessary waste by allowing mechanics to identify parts that are still in a usable condition and which could either be kept as spares or refurbished for use on another vehicle.
Caterpillar, a project partner, is already using refurbished and remanufactured parts in its earth-moving vehicles. The ability to do so allows the company to use less raw materials, energy and resources in their production, increasing the company’s profit margins.
Helping recycling and consumers
More significantly, the use of RFID tags to transmit life-cycle information will contribute to the European Union’s goal of ensuring that 96% of a car’s weight is recyclable by 2015.
For businesses and consumers, closed-loop PLM also offers other advantages. By monitoring a product when it leaves the factory, through its useful life until it is scrapped or recycled, companies will have more information at hand with which to improve the design and satisfy consumer needs.
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