Highways and Flyways

At Auto-Tech 2003 I was having a wide-ranging chat with Bill Hoffman of Intermec. I think it would be hard to have any conversation with Bill that was not wide-ranging. For example, he might be one of the last people on the planet who still believes in working on his automobile.

Bill and I were talking about how labeling has become an essential part of packaging, from the real estate required on shipping labels, the complexity of compliance to every vendor’s wishes, to the many variations of radio frequency identification (RFID) labeling and the implications thereof.

Solutions manager is the enigmatic title Bill carries on his business card. And the labeling solution he and fellow members of the B-11 standard committee have developed has wide-ranging implications for the packaging community — although you might not yet be aware of it. The B-11 is the Automotive Industry Action Group’s (AIAG) tire tracking and identification RFID standard. In the short range, the standard will help automate the collection of tire and wheel information. It will facilitate the mounting and assembly process of tires and wheels on vehicles for original equipment manufacturers.

“This standard was designed to help identify individual tires and wheels with specific vehicles,” says Hoffman. “And it goes well beyond just tracking tires.”

Indeed it does. And people looking to design labeling can learn from this standard as well as AIAG’s parts identification and tracking standard (B-4) and ANSI MH10.8.4 RFID. Here you can find information on printing and programming, as well as placement of tire and wheel bar code labels and RFID tags. How labels and tags will be applied to tires and wheels is still a matter for debate.

I asked Hoffman what the driver behind the B-11 was. He says it goes beyond the Ford/Firestone tire fiasco. “This standard,” he says “and similar standards we’ll be seeing in the future, are in response to the TREAD Act.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act will require motor vehicle and motor vehicle equipment manufacturers to report information and to submit documents about customer satisfaction campaigns and other activities and events that may assist the agency to promptly identify defects related to motor vehicle safety.

Hoffman is thinking beyond the label. He is thinking about what can be done with the information that is gathered. “It will be possible to track a batch of bad tires back to the machine that made them, even to the time frame in which they were produced,” explains Hoffman. “So, rather than issue a blanket recall for every car with a specific model tire, manufacturers will be able to contact the specific owner of the vehicle to tell them to bring it in for a check.”

It’s not inconceivable to imagine an RFID scanner located at the front of a dealership so that when you bring your car in for service, data are transmitted to the service department and a cheerful service technician is waiting for you, recommended service plan and hot coffee in hand. Well, maybe the coffee is stretching things.

Securing the label to the tire and wheel, as well as many other auto parts, continues to be a challenge. Same for any package. The reality is, anything you stick on you can peel off. However, help for that part of the business is closer than you think. At the show, I was talking with Fred Schramm of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration. He was telling me of a special device (technology might be a more appropriate term) NASA has developed (and proven) called the X-ray fluorescence reader that makes it possible to put the bar code inside the product, chemically, to match outside marks and labels. The unseen label becomes an essential part of the thing it is applied to.

From guys who still work on their own cars to guys who work in outer space. Auto-Tech had it all.

Clyde E. Witt, executive editor

[email protected]

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