Honda Uses IR Instead
of RF to ID Car Bodies

Electronic eyes
keep paint room

DAN DAVIS, Senior Editor

or Honda of America Manufacturing Inc.(East Liberty, OH), the eyes have it. Product Identification "eyes", built around a modulated sensor assembly, are helping to keep Honda's paint room organized and running smoothly. Where radio-frequency tags failed, these identification units have done the job. Honda previously used RF tags to track car bodies through its paint shop. The system was used for process setupand tracking, and it delivered vehicle information to the factory's routing system. But the user-friendly technology had a problem in Honda's paint room. Temperature swings, resulting from trips between the ambient paint booth and the heated oven, caused the RF tags to wear out at an accelerated pace. Labor costs rose because the RF tags constantly needed replacing, and the replacement parts proved expensive.

Infared sensor assemblies read the steel labels and identify each car body as it moves through the paint department.

The wear and tear on the RF tags also led to poor readability. Read rates decreased, leading to sequencing problems for the Civic and Acura bodies. Smarteye Corp. (Troy, MI) stepped in with its tracking system to help Honda. Smarteye's patented system is centered around IR sensors and steel "labels". The labels are fabricated from 12-gauge steel with a bit pattern cut into them. As the bit pattern passes by an IR reader, the bits are added up and the carrier number is identified. The labels are durable enough to survive several trips through dip tanks, paint booths and ovens.

The steel identification tags Honda uses at its East Liberty, OH, facility are designed to withstand months of use in a paint shop environment without deteriorating. (Photos courtesy of O'Neill Industrial Photo Graphics)

The labels are usually attached to a conveyor carrier. However, because Honda wanted to identify the car body not the carrier, Honda and Smarteye engineers designed label holders to sit in the slit for the roll-down windows. "We were successful in designing special jigs that fit right into the windows," says Dave Kruse, a Honda staff engineer. Since the Smarteye system was installed, read rates have reached close to 99%, and Honda has been able to utilize automatic process set-up features and rely on the system's tracking software. Whereas Honda was applying maximum voltage to the E-coat tanks for both Civic and Acura car bodies because the older identification system couldn't tell the two apart, the new identification system allows the E-coat process to be customized to each body style, reducing material waste.

The controller system also offers Honda color batch optimization, automatic storage and retrieval control, and quality and historical data collection.

"It's really done the job for us. All we have to do is coat the car body, and the system sends it on its way," Kruse says.

Honda managers liked the performance of the system so much that they expanded its use to keep track of painted bumpers. Instead of placing the tags on the bumpers, however, the steel labels are placed on individual carriers, which remain with the painted bumpers until final assembly.

Other Honda facilities are interested in the material handling system as well, according to Kruse. Honda's Canadian operations recently adopted the Smarteye system for its paint operations.

Smarteye Corp. 248-853-4495