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Electronic tags to stop multi £m disappearances

A scheme to electronically tag one of the basic tools of all manufacturers – the metal cages (stillages) used to transport components could save those manufacturers millions of pounds in lost equipment and lost production by ending the widespread stillage “disappearance” problem.

Manufacturers rely on hundreds of thousands of relatively simple but specially constructed cages or stillages to simply transport components from supplier to the right point on an assembly line.
A typical car manufacturing process can have 300 stillages in a loop for each component and 350 components on average per group of cars means that there can be over a 100,000 stillages in circulation servicing the production of just one group of cars in one factory. These huge numbers alone makes the management of that equipment a challenge but that challenge is compounded by the not uncommon problem of the “misplacement” of stillages.

Over 7 years a car manufacturer can expect to lose around 20% of its stillages – thousands of valuable cages to simply disappear. Some are believed to some how end up being sold for scrap metal before the end of their useful life – others seem to find their way into the supply chains of other products. And some are just abandoned in the corner of an unrelated manufacturing plant.

The researchers at the University of Warwick's Warwick Manufacturing Group are working with Ford's Premier Automotive Group to use RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identity Tags) to put an end to this problem. The savings that can be gained by such technology are enormous – each missing stillage costs hundreds of pounds but more costly is the loss in production occasioned by the hold ups caused by not having a stillage full of key components in the right place at the right time. The component suppliers themselves are subject to unnecessary and unwarranted costs as they are forced to change production runs to accommodate the lack of stillages in a loop. When the situation reaches a critical point, substantial costs are incurred sourcing alternative packaging and emergency transport to ensure the car line is not held waiting for the parts to arrive.

By electronically tracking each stillage substantial savings can be made and relationships between supplier and manufacturer can be considerablely enhanced as the system eliminates many of the disputes common between supplier and the manufacturer as to the current location of stillages.

Should the current pilot project prove successful the researchers aim to explore the possibility of developing intelligent pallets in which the RFID tag also carries information on the number and type of components within each stillage at any one time. An obvious benefit would be the synchronisation of issuing improved scheduling information to suppliers with the knowledge the right number and type of pallet will be available.

This work forms one part of a £70 million research partnership (the Premium Automotive R&D Programme) on high value premium products between the University of Warwick's Warwick Manufacturing Group and Premier Automotive Group – Ford Motor Company's premium vehicle business group made up of Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover & Volvo. The partnership is funded by the Regional Development Agency Advantage West Midlands)

For further Information please contact:
Phil Foster,
Warwick Manufacturing Group,
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76 575401
Email: Philip.foster@warwick.ac.uk

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