The auto industry is a leader in the implemention of RFID transponder technology, but when it comes to standards, there is a lot of work to be done.

“Standalone solutions dominate,” says Bernd Schaefer, who works for German supplier Keiper. “We don’t have any universal systems from tier-2 to tier-1 suppliers.”

Establishing a standard for RFIDs (Radio frequency identification) is the goal of the RFID-based Automotive Network (RAN), a research project coordinated by Daimler that includes, on the supplier side, Bosch, Keiper and Rehau. IT companies Eurolog, IBM, Siemens and Cisco also participate. And rounding out the group are two logistics service providers, BLG and DHL, as well as four reseach institutes.

The RAN project started early this year and will run for three years. The German Economics Ministry provides 20 million euros in funding.

Schaefer, who is responsible for RAN at Keiper, says that too many data are not available across the entire value chain. Processes need to be standardized, the data structure of the RFID itself needs to have a universal format and a platform, a so-called “infobroker,” needs to be created for the exchange of data. IBM is responsible for building this infobroker.

Specifications should be manufacturer-neutral. “We don’t want to create barriers to entry for software and hardware providers,” said Daimler’s Michael Patocka, who heads up the RAN project.

The infobroker is the key to creating more process transparency in the complex logistics and production networks of the auto industry.

But the project is still in an early stage. In the beginning of 2011, the first real tests will start. Those tests, using real processes at automakers and suppliers, will show whether it is possible to have solutions for an entire industry.

The companies participating hope to reduce time-consuming searches, lower the costs of tracking errors and analyzing production halts.

Tier-1 suppliers also hope to be able to use one system to communicate with carmakers and their own Tier-2 suppliers.

Said Keiper’s Schaefer: “Until now we have had a very heterogeneous IT landscape in the automotive value chain. Every carmaker does it slightly differently from his competitor. That means more time spent and higher costs for the supplier.”

If the German companies agree on a common approach, overall costs will go down in the industry. Said Daimler’s Patocka: “If we’re successful, we can generate a competitive advantage for the German industry."

By Gert Reiling