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Managing Editor  | June 2017

Fraunhofer Institute has developed component tracking solution for mass production


As manufacturing chains become more interconnected and global supply chains spread products around the world, industry has turned to several options (RIFD tags, DataMatrix codes, and chemical markers) to identify individual components and the Fraunhofer Institute for Physical Measurement Techniques IPM (Freiburg, Germany) has developed a new Track & Trace Fingerprint solution.

 

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With its “Track & Trace Fingerprint,” Fraunhofer IPM has developed a marker-free system
for the traceability of mass components. (Fraunhofer IPM)

 

According to a report on the institute’s website, this “marker-free system” will allows manufacturers to identify and track even small components through the mass production process.

 

“For reasons of practicality, the complete traceability of components and production histories in mass production is also necessary, because even the smallest and — what may at first glance appear to be —most insignificant parts can compromise the quality of a complex and expensive end product,” the announcement explained.

 

In order to identify individual components, the new technology reads the surface micro-structure and color texture of the components and semi-finished products with a high-res industrial camera.

 

“A characteristic bit sequence — the fingerprint — is computed from the resulting image and assigned to an individual ID,” the announcement continued. “This pairing is then stored in a database. The ID can then be linked with further information such as measurement or production data. In order to identify a component later on, the process is simply repeated — a reconciliation process of the data after the image was recorded reliably and exactly provides the corresponding fingerprint code and thus further individual features of the component.”

 

This avoids the need for a barcode to be imprinted on the sealing or decorative surfaces of a component and the technology is applicable to a variety of materials, including smooth plastics and aluminum to cast-iron or painted surfaces.

 

According to Dr. Alexander Förste, project manager of “Track & Trace Fingerprint” at the Fraunhofer IPM, “Every second, the device can unambiguously identify the stochastic ‘fingerprint’ of a component even in batch sizes of several 100,000 pieces; this allows an allocation of component-related data in the production cycle. Since no additional markers or IDs are attached to the product, this system is not only tamper-proof but also very economically feasible. Ultimately, no additional quantity-related costs are incurred.”

 

The process even works if there is contamination or scratches. The development could prove particularly beneficial to the automotive and medical industries, which require high quality standards.

 

A prototype has been deployed and a pilot installation with an automotive partner is expected to be up and running later this year.

 

“Our technology clearly demonstrates how the networking of digitization and measuring technology in conventional production processes works in practice against the backdrop of the fourth industrial revolution,” said Förste. “The quality of complex industrial products can depend on the quality of each individual component. If only one single faulty connector costing just a few cents endangers the functionality and longevity of a complex electronic control box of, for example, a car, then all installed connectors are considered to be a liability. Our procedure prevents such costly and cost-intensive operations in the production and value chain.”

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