1. Mr. John, Engelhard Arzneimittel has implemented a comprehensive RFID solution on the company premises. How did the demand for this solution come about?
developed the first ideas for this in 2010, and they became more concrete between 2012 and 2014. Unfortunately, the project then had to be put on hold for the time being. Since production was becoming increasingly complex, we decided on automation in 2018 and implemented it with Beckhoff Automations in the new production plant that was built in 2019. I then realized: if we have the central hose connection where the connection is made, we would need a solution for this.
2. Why is this so important, particularly in the hose connection?
In the previous production building, where a lot of manufacturing was still done by hand, harmless mix-ups sometimes occurred at the hose connection. A vacuum-resistant hose was perhaps used for an application for which a non-pressure-resistant one would have sufficed. Such a hose is certified and costs about 500 euros each. For that reason alone, proper handling of hoses is important. Perhaps a connection was not closed properly. Such errors can lead to a whole batch of medicine becoming unusable. This is what we want to prevent.
3. Was it clear from the start that RFID was the best solution?
No. The first idea was to ensure the correct connection via a position detector. It would report that there is a hose between valve A and valve B. However, unfortunately, a system like that is not able to check whether it is the right hose. Only then did we come up with the idea of giving each hose an RFID chip at both ends and thus a tool number that is the same at both ends.
The hose number is matched and only when both valves that we want to connect have reported to the control system that the number is identical, is there a 100 percent certainty that the hose is in the right position. We have thus achieved a very high level of process reliability.
4. That being said, what did the implementation look like for the RFID solution?
With concrete project plans that started in 2019, it was clear that RFID would be used for user identification at the control panels and for the hose connection. The access control system from Siemens & Voss had already been installed and was retained. The payment system for the canteen was a new development. Essentially, the hose connection had to be there for production, but at the end of 2019 a new requirement presented itself: How can we ensure that the hoses can no longer be mixed up? This now works via RFID.
The complete system is now in use. The user identification has been in place since the end of 2021, but it will not be fully activated until the last four read heads are in place. The solution at the hose connection has been in place since September 2022. Delivery problems caused by COVID-19 have caused slight delays.
5. It was also hard to find the suitable tag; why? There are plenty in the market.
That's true. However, if I have an RFID chip cast into a hose sleeve, for example, I can only read it at exactly one point. This is inconvenient, because I may not be able to reach this spot well with the read head, or I may read out the wrong hose without my knowledge, or I may not even recognize it at all. This is why we have developed our own tag holder with WeSiTec.
Furthermore, our production is classified as Zone 1 according to ATEX, so we can only use devices that are approved for Zone 1.
6. What improvement do you see in the control panels with the Auto-ID solution?
Everything is faster when you do not have to enter a password. Not long ago, an employee entered his password incorrectly three times, as a result of which his user account was locked. The administrator also happened to make a mistake, so his admin password had to be re-enabled by the manufacturer. This all took a very long time.
With a read head solution in the control panel, this is much easier to deal with. The transponder is held close and there is no risk of incorrect entry. We now have higher security with less downtime. And the nice thing is, we have one system for everything instead of several systems.
7. Where are you headed next? What new ideas do you have for the RFID solution at the hose connection?
I have actually already started thinking ahead. Other parameters can be controlled via the hose number that is programmed into the system. For example, a hose might only be used for certain products in the future. It could also be given a cleaning status "cleaned/not cleaned" and an age certificate in the control system. In this case, the employee would not have to think about whether the hose is too old, instead, the hose would simply not be released.
An increased level of automation, controlling and production safety will lead to fewer human errors. Another idea involves the use of robots to monitor the production facility. Instead of an employee for routine rounds, we could use a robot to open doors independently.