Procter & Gamble Adopts RuBee Wireless for Part Changeovers

SmartParts, a RuBee wireless device for harsh environment, machine-to-machine communication from Visible Assets Inc., has passed trials at Procter & Gamble for identifying part changes on high-speed packaging machines.

RuBee tag
RuBee tag

This image shows how a RuBee tag can be embedded in machine parts for part changeover tracking. Changing parts on machinery is a critical aspect of production machine uptime. The healthcare and consumer products industries, for example, typically use machines with five to 20 change-parts for high volume production. In this kind of environment, if a machine operator places the wrong part or tool on a machine, it can lead to machine damage or rejected product runs.

To help operators verify that the correct parts are being used for the next production run, a number of RFID (radio frequency identification) and RF-based part identification and tracking systems exist. The problem is that the large amount of steel in most manufacturing environments can lead to unreliable RF communications. 

This image shows how a RuBee tag can be embedded in machine parts for part changeover tracking. Devised as a way to overcome the limitations of RF communication in industrial environments, Visible Assets Inc., a supplier of high-security, mission-critical asset visibility networks based on its RuBee wireless technology, has developed SmartParts—wireless tags that are permanently attached to each change-part. Other components of the SmartParts package include a RuBee router, which is connected to the machine’s programmable logic controller (PLC), and volumetric RuBee antennas placed at strategic locations.

RuBee is an IEEE-approved, low-power, low-cost, long-life, wireless data communication protocol (IEEE 1902.1) for use in harsh environments. It uses magnetic signals rather than RF to communicate, so it cannot be blocked by steel, liquids or humans. It also has no multipath reflections or spatial nulls found in RF systems. The RuBee technology is protected by U.S. and foreign patents, all owned by Visible Assets Inc. The company says that more than 1,800 RuBee devices are in use worldwide; and that all are operating at 100% read accuracy.

Over the past four years, Jason Debruler, senior Procter & Gamble engineer, has been testing several wireless technologies, such as RFID, LEB (load and energy balancing), and ZigBee, to verify change-part placement in machine start-up audits. According to Debruler, the company’s work with these technologies for this application were not viable. This led Procter & Gamble to investigate using RuBee for change-part tracking and verification.

“Packaging machinery is increasingly complex,” said Debruler. “More machines include servo drives, integrated robotics, vision systems, machine fault/performance analysis, and communications for integration with line and production management systems and have many optional change-parts. Therefore, machine readiness at start-up on our production lines—with all change-parts correctly installed and identified—is most important for P&G.”

Based on testing of RuBee SmartParts over the past year on packaging machines at Procter & Gamble, Debruler said, “We are confident this technology will enable us to completely digitize our change-part verification to advance our machine reliability and eliminate issues due to the wrong change-parts. SmartParts is now a P&G-wide approved product.”

The Sidewinder II NEMA case houses the 4-channel RuBee router which runs the SmartParts software under a Linux OS and Visible Assets’ proprietary Bluefin industrial kernel. The basic RuBee SmartParts package from Visible Assets includes a single four-channel RuBee Router (the Sidewinder II) in a stainless steel NEMA R3 case with up to four volumetric antennas placed on the machine. SmartParts tags can be attached or embedded in the tools and can be optionally equipped with vibration and temperature sensors to report the health and status of a part. SmartParts software runs on the Sidewinder II under a Linux OS and Visible Assets’ proprietary Bluefin industrial kernel. The software is integrated into the packaging machines’ PLC via EtherNet/IP and CIP protocols, with TCP/IP networking and unified on-screen controls and warnings. 

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