We did a short piece this week, as part of our RFID news round up, on a new system deployed ar one of GM's factories that uses what the auto giant calls a "data bolt."
A data bolt has an RFID tag and antenna in a cavity in the head of the bolt. Greatly simplified, the GM system uses two data bolts during the assembly of engines, writing each step of the production process as it occurs, and checking to make sure the correct steps were performed and also performed correctly. (Full story is here.)
Here is the problem: none of the reports makes it clear - or even asks the question - of what value there is in writing the production data to the tag. Of course, automatically identifying the engine block or cyclinder head assembly likely makes great sense, but the original report itself notes that that "All of the data from each bolt gets uploaded to servers housed at the factory."
So what good is it to write data to the tags? I have been involved in some shop floor data collection systems which could continue to operate when the "host" (no one uses that term any more) system went down, uploading the collected data when it came back up.
That possibly could be the case here, but the reports emphasize heavily the interactive nature of the system, alerting workers or automated equipment if something in the assembly is amiss (missed step, torque on a bolt not right, etc.). That can't work if the central system is down.
So even though we covered it, the whole interest and value of the GM story was compromised without that central question addressed: why do you need to write data to the smart bolt?
I am sure there is a good reason - I'd like to know what that is. I suppose it could be that bringing in the data from the chip to the next step is simply more efficient than doing a look up as the engine moves on down the assembly line, but would like that explained.
So, the point in part here is that - in a clearly self-serving statement - too often trade press articles do not include one of more key case study details that without which it is difficult if not impossible to sufficiently understand what is going on.
I am sure we have failed in this regard ourselves a few times, but we try hard to avoid these issues. Sometimes that means going back to the source to clarify a key point.
Or at least pose the question to the readers, which is what we did on this story. Sometimes, that helps the reader think through the problem-opportunity in a new way.
We are going to follow up with GM and see if we can get the answer here too.
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