Ford Motor Company


Knowing what you have and where it is within the supply chain at any given time should be straightforward. But consider an enormous manufacturer, such as Ford Motor Company, which must manage tens of thousands of items, and suddenly the seemingly simple task of knowing what you have —and where it is—becomes staggeringly complex.

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The Story

The Challenge

Locating Thousands of Vehicles & Parts

Temporarily misplaced items can stop a manufacturing process, delay the delivery of products, result in excess or obsolete inventory and contribute to a loss of productivity. And as companies implement lean manufacturing processes, the value of real-time information for every container of inventory flowing through the supply chain is critical.

The Solution

Wireless Tracking at 35 Plants

To meet these challenges, Ford Motor Company implemented a wireless Real-Time Locating System (RTLS) from Zebra Technologies at several of its plants throughout North America and Europe.

The system is driven by wireless tags, fixed position antennas and Web-enabled software. The system locates and tracks inventory using extremely low-power radio frequency tags and a communications network. Antennas positioned inside and outside the factory receive tag transmissions and deliver tracking information to a computer. The system then identifies the location of the tag within 10 feet of its exact position. 


Finding One Vehicle in a Lot of Thousands

Imagine trying to locate one car in a vast lot filled with 2,000 to 3,000 nearly identical vehicles, and you can understand the impetus behind the need for Zebra’s VTMS. This application provides constant visibility and management of vehicles from final assembly to shipping, making it easy to instantly locate specific vehicles to fulfill dealers’ custom orders or to identify any automobiles on hold for quality control.

Tracking Raw Materials

While Ford’s Van Dyke plant has adopted lean manufacturing principles, parts often end up being stored until needed at the line. RTLS tracks each item during its time in the plant so that personnel can always locate them quickly. Containers can be permanently affixed with a wireless Wheretag, each with a barcode that is associated with the product ID of the item. Every four minutes, the tag transmits its location to continually update the warehouse management system on its location. The tags can remain on the container even after leaving the facility, as they have a battery life expectancy of seven years.

When transmissions are shipped to the Wayne Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., another Zebra RTLS picks up the tag transmissions there and begins tracking as the racks reach the docks.

Automating Parts Replenishments

RTLS also makes it easy for line workers at the plant to request fresh supplies of materials. Most major automakers have adopted the paper card-based Japanese Kanban system for bringing parts to the assembly line.

Ford now places WhereCall devices at assembly stations. When supply of a specific part reaches a pre-determined replenishment level, the line worker presses the WhereCall button that sends a signal to re-stock that particular part so that the line will never run out of parts. This process eliminates the need for replenishment workers to travel routes to pick up Kanban cards and eliminates some lag time from the process, further minimizing line-side inventories.

Saving Millions over Hardwired Systems

The wireless nature of the system offers tremendous flexibility and helps assure that the line is reliably stocked with materials as needed. Ford has achieved impressive results through its use of the technology:

  • More efficient use of labor 
  • Implementation cost savings of approximately $200,000 to $500,000 per facility over hardwired systems 
  • Fast installation with a call system coming online in a matter of weeks 
  • Proven reliability with performance approaching Six Sigma ratings

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