Radio frequency identification or RFID is not new to the automotive industry. From car security access to automated toll collection on highways and freeways, RFIDs are finding more applications in the automotive world. And, its role in this industry is growing fast. Some 20 years after its first deployment, RFIDs are becoming ubiquitous within vehicles, as well as in automotive manufacturing and distribution processes, according to a report from ABI Research, “Automotive RFID Markets.” Key applications that are benefiting from this technology include vehicle entry and security systems, tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), automotive manufacturing, electronic throttle control (ETC) and automatic vehicle identification (AVI).

Vehicle entry and security system segments have the highest profile, according to ABI Research analyst Robert Foppiani. Some 40% of new cars produced in North America today come equipped with immobilizers that disable a vehicle unless its RFID reader detects the correct tag in the driver's ignition key. “While RFID immobilizers have existed for more than a decade, volumes have increased in the past five years, and in 2005, the sector generated $3.7 billion in worldwide revenues,” stated Foppiani.

However, according to this report, the greater growth potential lies in automating the manufacturing process. For instance, General Motors and Volkswagen, employ RFID tags and readers from Identec Ltd. in their manufacturing operations. Furthermore, RFIDs provide visibility and security to the supply chain. “Containers of GM parts moving from Canada to the United States are RFID tagged. The technology helps keep track of finished BMWs, Minis and Land Rovers as they leave the factory. And, in the huge parking lots of the Broekman Group's automotive division in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, a WhereNet wireless tracking system can locate any one of 40,000 vehicles parked there at a given time.

Likewise, Nissan Motor Co. and NTT DoCoMo Inc. have developed a RFID system to manage the inventory of dies for automobile parts. Each RFID tag contains information on the die's status, location, repair record and history usage. By placing the tag in a special RFID tag-reading tray, workers can instantly read information on the die on a nearby computer screen. Nissan and NTT DoCoMo plan to expand it to include process production management of engine parts and the automatic ordering of dies. And, the carmaker expects RFIDs to reduce its die inventory by half next year.

According to the report, other key players in RFID assembly line automation include Escort Memory Systems and Siemens. Besides improving manufacturing processes, manufacturers are adding functionality to vehicles using RFIDs. For example, tire supplier Michelin has developed RFID for tire identification. Recently, the tire manufacturer unveiled a RFID system for passenger and light truck tires. Michelin engineers have developed a RFID transponder that is manufactured into the tire and stores tire identification information. With this technology, the tire identification number can be associated with the vehicle identification number (VIN) making the tires identifiable with an individual vehicle, telling when and where the tire was made, maximum inflation pressure, tire size, etc. For vehicle and tire makers, it means a simple and innovative way to comply with federal record-keeping standards, including those of the new TREAD (Transportation, Recall, Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act.

While other tire makers have demonstrated similar technology, Michelin's RFID tag is the first to meet the Automotive Industry Action Group's B-11 standard for North America, as a “cured into the tire” solution, claimed the manufacturer. Operating at UHF, the Michelin RFID tag can be interpreted by a reader, handheld or mounted, some 24 inches or more (at or beyond 60 cm) away from the transponder. Once collected, the information can be stored in a database for accurate and easy retrieval.

The rate at which the automotive manufacturers are embracing this technology, RFID is expected to fundamentally change the manufacturing and business processes in the automotive industry. And, definitely for the better.