Simplicity in a complicated production process
Saint-Gobain – Aerospace Division
Saint-Gobain, a worldwide supplier of construction and industrial solutions, needed help keeping track of 3,000 to 4,000 airliner windshields as they wove their way through a complex manufacturing process. Their location technology of choice was Wirepas.
Our partner Arenzi is a Paris-based indoor geolocation specialist. Among other things, they devise bomb-proof solutions for tagging, geolocation, and alerting in complicated fabrication scenarios.
The thick glass-and-acrylic ply of Airbus airliner windshields can withstand the impact of a bird at full speed, bending significantly before bouncing back, intact. Saint-Gobain, a French multinational, has its origins in the time of Louis XIV as the Royal Manufactory of mirror glass. Today, the 350-year-old company’s aerospace division builds cockpit windshields for Airbus airliners. To guarantee faultless, efficient production and quality control, Saint-Gobain relies on the geolocation skills of Arenzi, which has integrated the IoT connectivity suite Wirepas Mesh into its solution.
Tracking asset location & status in manufacturing
Manufacturing windshields that are so incredibly strong but elastic at the same time involves some 30 distinct processes—some of them invisible to the naked eye. To make matters more complicated, different windshields may move through different processes in different orders.
At any given time, there are 3,000 to 4,000 windshields in circulation at two Saint-Gobain factories of over 20,000 square meters each in central France’s Loire Valley. Keeping track of the status of each and every piece was problematic, so much so that Saint-Gobain had four employees dedicated to finding errant windshields. The ultimate solution involved Wirepas wireless geolocation technology: a fully-wireless solution with years of network and sensor battery life.
“The Wirepas Mesh solution was the obvious choice. Arenzi is all about efficiency and process, and Wirepas exemplifies this dedication. It’s a technology that’s quick to implement, affordable, and simply works the way it’s supposed to.”
– Ignatio Sanchez, Head of Method and Innovation, Saint-Gobain – Aerospace Division
Saint-Gobain production directors tasked Paris-based indoor geolocation integrator Arenzi with devising a solution for tagging windshields so that each one can be geolocated in real time, complete with all process history. They also asked Arenzi to help increase efficiency vis-à-vis timing. Saint-Gobain wanted lead-time averages for each step in the process and a system of real-time alerts should those times be exceeded.
Arenzi had implemented Wirepas many times within production facilities, laboratories and work sites around western Europe. In the case of Saint-Gobain, the Wirepas Mesh IoT connectivity suite was Arenzi’s top choice—for our winning mix of simplicity, performance and price:
Like many sophisticated manufacturers, Saint-Gobain did not want a geolocation system that used or competed with their industrial WiFi network. They also wanted a system that was easy to install, with minimum disruption to the work environment. Since Wirepas is a wire-free, battery-powered system, it is simple to install. It doesn’t require mains-powered routers and communicates over the 2.4 GHz band, which does not interfere with WiFi signals. Arenzi succeeded in placing anchors in both factories and switching the network live in the space of two days.
With Wirepas, data is relayed from anchor to anchor through gateways using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) ultra-low-power 2.4 GHz hardware via the Wirepas Mesh protocol. Location is triangulated between anchors to within a three-meter radius, which was perfect for over 80 percent of Saint-Gobain’s use cases. Not only that, but the battery-powered network would also require zero maintenance for more than two years and then only to replace batteries.
All competing solutions involved cabling between anchors, which made them inherently more expensive than Wirepas, both to purchase and install.
Tag-based tracking reveals windshield location and production history
The Saint-Gobain solution consists of slim tags with long-life batteries that last approximately 18 months, a Wirepas Mesh array installed on-site, gateways, and a backend analysis-and-dashboard platform integrated with Saint-Gobain’s inventory system.
When a windshield enters circulation, the backend system assigns a timestamp and begins tracking location and process history. Location is triangulated between Wirepas nodes and data is transmitted from node to node through gateways using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) ultra-low-power 2.4 GHz hardware via the Wirepas Mesh protocol. Gateway devices push encrypted data over cellular or satellite networks to the Saint-Gobain cloud where information is recorded, analyzed and presented on dashboards in real-time.
Wirepas Mesh minimizes power consumption and does not require elaborate radio-frequency planning or installation. Each sensor acts as a relay to communicate with the next, over frequencies opportunistically chosen for their availability. Every additional sensor makes the signal stronger, enabling massive scalability.
2 factories, 2 days.
Technology continues to bring efficiency and transparency to manufacturing processes everywhere. Full, real-time information on each and every piece in a massive manufacturing operation is not the norm, but in the case of Saint-Gobain’s aerospace division, it was imperative.
In the space of two days, both Saint-Gobain factories had Wirepas Mesh installed, up and running. The tags accompanying each windshield now travel in the folder that moves with it, giving Saint-Gobain personnel precise location and instant access to a complete process history for each piece. As a result, the paths that windshields take have been made more efficient, with no duplication of steps, less time spent at most steps, and no time spent in limbo. In addition, the four full-time employees whose job it had been to keep track of windshields were reassigned to more productive tasks.
What's our part in this?
Non-specialized installation, no wired infrastructure.
Easy to expand and maintain
Reliability and cover at any scale
Up to 4,000 windshields are tracked in the 2 factories
Intelligent frequency agility—no interference with other 2,4Ghz networks
Fastest Time To Deploy
20,000 m² deployed in 2 days
No complex network setup