GM Uses ?Smart Bolts' In Engine Assembly

Global Data Point

January 7, 2014

Introducing a screw that knows more about your engine than you do. Feel insulted? You shouldn't.

The General Motors Tonawanda Engine plant in Tonawanda, NY recently went under a $400 million renovation to build the new line of six and eight cylinder engines?including the LT1 small block for the Corvette Stingray. The plant is the first to use GM's new ?track and trace? system, which utilizes radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to insure accuracy and consistency during the manufacturing process. As Popular Mechanics points out, GM has used RFID tags to identify engines for over 10 years, but this marks the first time the technology will be bolted directly to the engine. GM is calling the technology the "data bolt.? The data bolt is threaded on one end, but hollow on the other to make room for the RFID tag, memory chip and a small coiled piece of wire which acts as an antenna.

The data bolt can store about two kilobytes of information, not a lot in comparison to your iPod, but its more than enough to record all the manufacturing processes the engine goes through. All of the data recorded onto the RFID is then uploaded to a server within the plant.

Almost every automated machine on the assembly line will scan the data bolt before it performs its task and load data onto the RFID once the task is complete. If any of the machines do not complete the job to perfection, the next machine down the line will set the engine aside for it to be inspected by a worker.

Quality control is the main purpose of the data bolt, but it is also proving to be especially useful in post-production trouble shooting. If a parts supplier sends the factory a bad batch of parts, it's easy for the workers to find the engines in which they were installed using the database of information from the data bolt.

GM is reportedly planning on implementing RFID technology at its other plants, but hasn't said when it will do so.

Marc Brazeau, director at AlixPartners, a global consulting firm specializing in manufacturing processes, told Popular Mechanics GM's technology has the potential to spread to other industries, such as appliance manufacturing.

"Four or five years from now you're going to see a lot of different types of applications (for the data bolt).?

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