Ford Motor Company of Canada is deploying the standards-based WhereNet (Santa Clara, Calif.) active radio frequency identification (RFID), real-time locating system (RTLS) technology at its Oakville Assembly Complex (OAC) in Ontario, Canada. By expediting delivery of just-in-time parts, the automated check in/out solution will dramatically improve the efficiency of OAC's freight and inventory management system.
Covering the entire 5.4 million square foot OAC facility, the WhereNet implementation will be the largest RTLS-powered yard management system for an automotive manufacturer in the world.
The deployment is part of a transformation of the Oakville complex to flexible manufacturing, allowing for quick responses to market demand without the lengthy and expensive retooling process required of traditional model changeovers. Currently, OAC builds the Ford Freestar and Mercury Monterey minivans; this fall, the plant will begin production of the 2007 Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossover utility vehicles.
With flexible manufacturing, inbound parts shipments from suppliers are smaller and more frequent, in OAC's case, involving hundreds of daily truckloads of thousands of components in sequence. By automating the check-in/out procedures, the system saves Ford several hours a day processing deliveries and increases efficiency in the supply chain.
The WhereNet system puts a "wireless cloud" over the entire Oakville complex, with active RFID WhereTag transmitters permanently fixed to trailers belonging to Ford’s dedicated suppliers (and temporarily fixed to others); 14 WherePort magnetic exciters positioned at each gate; and a local infrastructure of 68 wireless WhereLAN locating access points spread throughout the complex. When a truck approaches a gate, the Fast Gate system senses the tag, cross-references detailed information about the truck in a database, and automatically opens the gate to grant entry if the truck and its load are authorized.
The driver then drops the trailer load at any one of 177 receiving dock doors and departs via a similar automated checkout procedure, without ever having to leave the cab. Meanwhile, the system captures the location of each trailer and precise information about its cargo and wirelessly transmits that information to a database, allowing Ford personnel instant access to this critical information. For example, lift truck drivers can learn where to pick up requested parts by accessing information on mobile devices supported by the Wi-Fi infrastructure and then deliver sequenced components to the final assembly area at the precise moment they are needed.