Track and trace your way to better OEE


Every manufacturing organisation aspires to achieve 100% overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), manufacturing only good parts as fast as possible, with no downtime. Such perfection is unachievable in the real world, but modern track-and-trace technologies can bring it a lot closer, as Tim Dodd of ifm electronic explains. 

While perfection – 100% overall equipment effectiveness – may be unachievable, it has been reported that the best manufacturers reach a score of 85%, whereas typical manufacturers score in the range of 60 to 65%. That’s a big difference, so what can those in the typical band do to start moving up?

There is one technology that can deliver big improvements across the whole of a manufacturing business: track and trace.

Raw materials

Effective tracking helps by ensuring that the locations and quantities of raw materials are always known in real time so that nothing is ever misplaced, and re-ordering can be based on reliable, up-to-the-minute data. RFID technology is the key to achieving this by using, for example, mobile RFID on forklift trucks to track the movement and locations of materials in unstructured environments. In many cases, UHF RFID systems will be the right choice for such applications, as it has a long reading range – typically up to 10m – and also supports the simultaneous reading of multiple tags.


Tooling is another area where track-and-trace technology has much to offer. Applying identification tags to tools makes it possible to confirm that the correct tool has been selected for the job in hand and to configure production machines automatically to match the tool installed. Here HF RFID systems are likely to be appropriate because the tools only need to be identified at short range, but the system is likely to be required to operate reliably in a metal-laden environment.

Product tracking

While the elimination of errors is a central facet of improving OEE, if errors do occur, it is essential to be able to determine the source of the problem and which products are affected. Tracking products through the whole production process is the best way of doing this. As soon as a problem is detected, it is then possible to use data from the tracking process to determine where and when the product was processed and thereby determine the point of error. The result is effective quarantine, accurate rework, and minimised scrap rates. In most cases, the RFID systems appropriate for this form of tracking need to transfer a comparatively large amount of data rapidly over short distances, which makes HF systems the most suitable option.


At the packaging stage, ensuring that the correct packaging is used is an essential part of any quality control programme and can be particularly challenging in environments where similar products with minor but important differences are produced.

Here, tracking both the products and the packaging materials provides a solution, effectively preventing the accidental mixing of lots during packaging. A well-implemented tracking system can also facilitate location tracking, shipment verification and product sequencing for finished goods. A UHF RFID system may be an appropriate solution for large, high-value goods, whereas, for low-value, high-volume items, an optical system using QR or bar codes may be more suitable and cost-effective.

To ensure that the most suitable technology is selected, it is important to review the capabilities and experience of the technology supplier. Does the supplier support all the technologies that might be needed, or will it be forced to offer what it has available rather than what the project really needs? Can the supplier’s systems readily be integrated with higher-level systems such as ERP and MRP? Does the supplier offer support for this type of integration?

If the supplier’s answer to all of these questions is ‘yes’ – as is the case for ifm electronic – you can proceed with confidence and start to reap the benefits that modern track-and-trace technologies can offer. The investment may well be a lot less than you think, and the result could easily be that your business moves up to the next levels of efficiency and profitability.


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