New cars already have HF RFID technology and their spare parts are often tracked with UHF RFID. How would the introduction of UHF “car ID-tags” change the manufacturing and distribution processes, not to mention customer service?
Co-authors: Henri Lehto, Tero Nieminen, Arabella Bassett
& Natasja van der Meer as a part of a school project.
HF RFID VERSUS UHF RFID - WHAT IS THE
DIFFERENCE WHEN IT COMES TO CARS?
The huge difference between tagging a car with HF tags versus
UHF tags is; the reading distance. Today's typical HF tags can be
read from a distance of up to 50 cm (20 inches), while UHF tags can
be read from a distance of up to 10 meters (33 feet). But that's
just today. The development constantly goes forward and tomorrow
could be a whole different story with new possibilities.
New cars are usually equipped with HF RFID technology for
different purposes, such as car locks, ignitions, tires, etc. Their
purpose is to fulfill a specific function, usually in the form of a
customer convenience feature. In terms of production, HF tags are
being used for identifying cars on the assembly line, but that is
their sole purpose and they are usually disposed of afterwards.
So called "smart cars" are cars that are equipped with an UHF
RFID tag containing information about the car's identity, here
referred to as the "car ID". Although spare parts can be tagged
with UHF tags for logistic and assembly reasons, the kind of UHF
tagged car that we are talking about here refers to cars equipped
with UHF tags in the purpose of providing a "car ID", much like a
register plate. This "car ID" is useful throughout the car's life
cycle for all involved interest groups (car manufacturers,
distributors, car service providers, car owners, police and safety
authorities etc.) - but, in different ways for all.
WHAT INFORMATION WOULD THE TAGS CONTAIN?
We are discussing the benefits of the system from a manufacturer
point of view, but the "car ID-tag" has to be useful and secure to
other interest groups as well after it leaves the manufacturing
facilities. With this in mind, we are basically looking at two
- The "car ID-tag" only contains an ID number - a so called
VIN (vehicle identification number). All information related to the
ID number is stored in a back-end system. The advantage of this
system is that it is harder for unauthorized scanners to obtain
information about the car, since the tag information itself only
consists of a number. Only by gaining access to the back-end system
will the ID number be associated with the information about the
car. The problem with this system is the inability to access the
car's information when there is no connection established to the
back-end system. From a manufacturer point of view, this
alternative makes sense, since contact with the back-end system is
easy to maintain in manufacturing facilities and the system is
simple to use and update.
- The "car ID-tag" has read/write capability and contains
all the information associated with the car (not just the VIN).
But, the information is stored behind encryption codes that only
allow authorized RFID readers to see the content. Whenever the "car
ID-tag" is connected to the back-end system, all updates made to
the tag will be copied to the back-end database and vice versa.
During manufacturing the "car ID-tag" can be modified and updated
to the back-end system by scanning it with a fixed or mobile RFID
reader. But after the car reaches its final destination and is out
on the streets, the future might bring us "car ID-tags" that
connect to a back-end system e.g. with a mobile smart phone or
through the satellite connection of the car's navigation
As you can see, both methods have their pros and cons. The most
likely solution would probably be a combination of the two. Some
basic information about the car is unprotected without any
encryption codes and available without connection to the back-end
system. More sensitive information placed on the tag might be
protected by encryption codes and the most critical information
might only be available in the back-end system.
Whether the tag type is read or read/write might vary from
country to country and depends on the degree of infrastructure in
the region. From the perspective of car manufacturers, both tag
types are applicable.
Whichever the system and independent of from whose point of view
we look at this, there will always be information that is sensitive
and has to be protected. If the cars are tagged at production, it's
up to the car manufacturer to ensure that the tag conveys with the
needs of the different interest groups and the standards and
requirements of the destination country.
As soon as an empty car shell enters the assembly process
it can be equipped with a "car ID" in the form of an UHF RFID tag.
This tag will follow the car throughout the different production
stages and eventually be permanently attached to the windshield or
the license plate of the car.
Car manufacturers often offer their customers customized
solutions, where the customer basically fills in a form with check
boxes of features such as specific interiors, seats and engine
parts. Keeping track of these customer preferences throughout the
production line has been proven difficult and confusing, resulting
in many errors. Another problem experienced by car manufacturers is
ensuring that the right tools are in place as a specific car with
specific requirements shows up on the assembly line. The legacy of
Henry Ford - "streamlining production" - is even more acute today
and delays and errors can be costly.
employed a HF "car ID-tag" solution to solve these problems
already in year 2009 and reported that the system gave them the
opportunity to streamline their production, reduce production
errors and lower manufacturing costs.
Other examples of car manufacturers that are using UHF RFID for
tracking cars and/or spare parts as well as for increasing
transparency in distribution and the supply chain are
Volkswagen, Renault and
Porsche. Renault reports that RFID technology has made it
possible to cut work time, receive real-time visibility and
improved traceability of their assets. The material flow has been
improved, planning optimized and the transport process
"CAR ID-TAGS" ARE USEFUL IN THE DISTRIBUTION
As mentioned in the previous section, "car ID-tags" do provide
concrete added value to the manufacturing process. But, they also
make the next steps; storage, transportation and distribution of
the cars, a lot easier. This matters for car manufacturers since
many handle parts of their distribution and sales themselves.
a Finnish vehicle and spare part logistics company, equips
passing-through-cars with UHF RFID tags to identify them during the
transportation and storage processes before they reach their new
owners or distributors. Challenges like ice and snow, huge areas to
cover and a large number of vehicles (350 000 vehicles per year)
make quick non-visual identification a time and cost saver for
As more and more car distributors are equipped with mobile and
fixed RFID readers, the threshold for implementing the system is
getting lower and lower. There is no doubt; cars will have RFID
"car IDs" in the future. The question is: What system will prevail;
tagging at production or tagging at some point of the distribution
chain as in Assistor's case? To me, it seems that the answer is
obvious; tagging at production. This way, car manufacturers
themselves can enjoy the benefits of the long range "car ID-tags"
and the information available on the tags will be all the way from
WHAT IS GOOD FOR THE CUSTOMER, IS ALSO GOOD
FOR THE BRAND…
…. and "smart cars" are truly convenient for car owners. We
posted an article about this subject, which you can find here: RFID tagged cars
- Part 2. But since I find this so important from the
manufacturer's point of view as well, I will repeat them shortly
Car manufacturers that equip their cars with UHF RFID tags will
gain advantages by being able to offer their customers:
- More effective protection against car theft
- Payment convenience and preselected personal settings and
preferences in parking halls, car parks, road tolls, drive-in
restaurants and car washes.
- Better control and transparency of repairs and spare
- Cars as individuals in a "social media" network
Most car manufacturers are already using or planning to use long
range AVI (automatic vehicle identification) in their manufacturing
processes and distribution, at least on spare parts. Many already
have a system of HF "car ID-tags" that help them produce customized
cars with fewer errors and delays.
The additional effort of starting to use UHF tags as "car
ID-tags" is extremely small in proportion to the benefits that this
would bring the car manufacturers, as well as the other interest
groups later on in the product life cycle. HF tags have a short
reading distance and demand workers to know exactly where the tag
is located on the car. The change to UHF RFID tags would open the
doors to start using fixed RFID readers that automatically scan the
car tags as they pass by. That, if something, is AUTOMATIC vehicle
identification and would improve man-hours efficiency
But the biggest benefit of switching to UHF RFID tags instead of
HF tags is; the same UHF tag could be used throughout the cars life
cycle - also in applications where UHF RFID readers are a must.
And, as long as the tags and the back-end system are smart and
flexible, the application possibilities are end-less. So, the key
to success is; "keep your system future-proof".
cars - Part 1 - From the car owner point of view
RFID in cars
- Part 2 - From the car service provider point of view
RFID in cars
- Part 3 - From the police and safety authorities point of
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