In times of highly networked production processes and global supply chains, it is a challenge for the industry to trace individual components of complex products in retrospect. For high-priced components, RFID tags, DataMatrix codes or chemical markers are established solutions for identification. However, a complete traceability of components and production history is also useful in mass production, since even the smallest and, at first sight, the most insignificant parts can impair the quality of a complex and expensive end product. Especially for small, price-sensitive elements, such as electric connectors or spark plugs, practical and cost-effective track & trace solutions are required. Labels or special markings, however, often prove to be too expensive or technically unrealizable. To tackle this problem, the team of the Fraunhofer IPM research program Track & Trace Fingerprint has developed a system for the traceability of mass components which allows the individual recognition and authentication of individual components.
The technology utilizes the individual microstructure of the surfaces of components and semi-finished products. First, a selected area of the component with all its specific structures and its position is recorded with a high-resolution industrial camera. A characteristic bit sequence – the “fingerprint” – is calculated from the image and assigned to an individual ID. This pairing is stored in a database. The ID can then be linked with further information such as measurement or production data. The process can be simply repeated for a later identification of the component – data matching after the image recording provides reliably the corresponding fingerprint code and thus further individual features of the component.
»Engraving a serial number or the application of a barcode is not possible on sealing or decorative surfaces. Our approach is efficient, practical and cost-saving even if applied to high-volume components. A wide range of materials is suitable for this type of marking-free technique – from smooth plastics to aluminum and cast iron to painted surfaces «, explains project manager Alexander Förste. “The stochastic” fingerprint “of a component can also be unambiguously identified on the fly at lot sizes of several 100,000 pieces. This makes it possible to assign component-specific data at the speed required for high-volume serial production. Since no additional markers or IDs are attached to the product, this system is not only counterfeit-proof, but also very economically feasible, since no costs are incurred that depend on the number of pieces.
Complete and marking-free traceability over the entire manufacturing process creates a tangible added value, especially in industries with high quality standards such as the automotive industry or medical technology, Fraunhofer IPM claims. The research institute has already deployed a prototype of the new process under the “Track4Quality” project. In the second half of the year 2017, a pilot installation will be put into operation with a partner from the automotive supply industry.
The quality of complex industrial products can depend on the quality of each individual component. The enforcement of high quality standards is of great importance in the production of safety-relevant products, especially if this production is associated with a high level of automation. “If manufacturing companies are able to trace even the smallest key components quickly and without a doubt in mass production, this helps to optimize their processes – for example, in the improvement of production and assembly processes, possibly recalls or recycling”, Förste says.
More information: https://www.ipm.fraunhofer.de/en.html