Automotive Industry Assembler Shortens Replenishment Cycles with RFID-based Material Flow
Looking for ways to drive waste out of processes, well-respected sub-assembler and sequencer Android Industries turned to Zebra's proven success and expertise in real time location systems (RTLS) and radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies. With visibility in real time, Android can calculate the efficiency of each unit of labor, allowing them to leverage the solution for ongoing process improvement.
Well-respected for impeccable safety, high quality, and unmatched efficiency, Android Industries, LLC is a sub-assembler and sequencer of complex vehicle systems for automotive OEMs. Since 1990, Android has assembled over 100 million modules including engine, suspension, axle, tire and wheel, and instrument panels. Headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Android has assembly plants throughout the United States.
Economic realities are forcing automotive OEMs and their suppliers to look for ways to cut costs while realizing the most efficiency from every process. New automotive model introductions, increasing sub-assembly complexity, and a relentless push to remove waste mean doing more with less—right now. More vehicle models, more options, and more complexity call for flexible, lean manufacturing at every level.
Android knew that they had to scrutinize every workflow to drive continuous improvement. Management identified material flow and replenishment tasks as burdened with non-value-added processing and unnecessary motion—two key areas of waste in manufacturing processes. Material operators often had stock handlers pull containers long before they were needed, which caused congestion in warehouse aisles. In addition, forklift drivers often wasted time on poorly planned routes, slowing replenishment activities.
Rick Frey, Global Control/Logistics Manager, recognised that gaining deep visibility into workflows was essential. "At Android, driving waste out of processes is key. However, you cannot improve what you cannot measure." In fact, Android discovered what so many other companies are also realizing. To maximize labor and drive continuous process improvement, companies must have sensors in place to collect information in real time, and feed the information to planning software that collects, analyzes, and presents the results for intelligent decision-making.
While Android already relied on a legacy enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, it required an execution system with deep visibility into manufacturing activities at any moment. Frey notes, "Sensor-based control systems were the only way we could get that linkage, where visibility feeds into the execution system, giving us granularity of detail."
Android turned to Zebra's proven success and expertise in real time location systems (RTLS) and radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies. Zebra's material replenishment solution offered real-time visibility throughout the entire facility including point of storage, point of production, and point of return. Push-button pendants, call sensors, Wi-Fi® access points, and mobile terminals mounted in material handling equipment formed the hardware "core" of the system.
Integrated with Android's legacy systems through an open application programming interface (API), the Zebra solution provides RFID-driven visibility into actual operations. At each consumption location when the work task reaches a predetermined reorder point, the operator pushes a wireless call pad, enabling a call for material. The transaction is screen-automated for each "ticket" task, which automatically requests and assigns a route to a forklift or material cart handlers. Each replenishment task is colour-coded based on priority, enabling material handlers to pluck and pick multiple components in parallel.
We used to work in feet, hours, and dollars. Now it's all about inches, seconds, and pennies. With Zebra's solution, we took a week's worth of data, and went from 85 percent utilisation without waste to 89 percent. We are well on our way to 93 percent efficiency. We now have a tool to help drivers and replenishment operators fine tune their workflow tasks to a high caliber, which benefits everyone, especially our customers.
The new system immediately improved the material handler's field of vision, eliminating the need for the stock person to pull the container so the driver could see it. Now, the driver simply identifies the material location from an onboard console. When the replenishment operator calls out the order, the driver receives a specific, uncongested route to the material location, which also helps improve safety.
With visibility in real time, Android captured key material replenishment metrics, allowing them to provide clear work instructions to the material handlers, maximizing labor efficiency. The system refreshes every 60 seconds, providing operators right-now visibility into part numbers, priority, where materials are stored, and where they need to go. Management can drill down into the data to optimise load leveling, share material and process management, and make decisions about phased deployments.
The Zebra solution also helped Android determine the optimal cycle timing for replenishment so that operators could plan safety stock, while ensuring maximum assembly line throughput. Exception and alert management gives Android the flexibility to "hot shot" parts to their customers, while achieving data retention and cycle time requirements.
Android can now visualize the time between replenishment movements. The Zebra solution allows management to "see" every container specific to the process, the container's location, and how long each process took vs. requirements. From these metrics, Android can determine the distance for each replenishment cycle for each part, govern the amount of labor needed, and then calculate the efficiency of each unit of labor. What's more, Android can leverage the solution for ongoing process improvement, efficiency gains, and cost reductions—boosting the return on value, year after year.
Rick Frey sums it all up. "We used to work in feet, hours, and dollars. Now it's all about inches, seconds, and pennies. With Zebra's solution, we took a week's worth of data, and went from 85 percent utilisation without waste to 89 percent. We are well on our way to 93 percent efficiency. We now have a tool to help drivers and replenishment operators fine tune their workflow tasks to a high caliber, which benefits everyone, especially our customers."