Wireless Applications

WhereNet Tapped for Automotive Parts Replenishment

May 20, 2008

One of the world's largest independent automotive transmission manufacturers has deployed WhereNet's Material Flow System to automate parts replenishment at two- million square foot assembly plant, managing consumption-based demand across the supply chain.


COLOGNE, Germany and SANTA CLARA, CA /PRNewswire/ -- WhereNet Corp., a Zebra Technologies company (NASDAQ:ZBRA) and the leader in wireless solutions for tracking and managing enterprise assets, announced that GETRAG FORD Transmissions, one of the largest manufacturers of automotive transmissions in the world, has deployed WhereNet's new Material Flow–Replenishment System at its two-million square foot assembly plant in Cologne, Germany to automate parts replenishment processes as part of the company's lean manufacturing initiative.

Implemented in less than 90 days, the WhereNet system plays a critical role in managing a very complex manufacturing environment as the GETRAG FORD Transmissions Cologne facility makes six different transmission varieties for global brands including Ford, Mazda and Volvo. The Cologne factory produces more than one million transmissions annually for automotive manufacturers in Argentina, China, Europe, Japan, South Africa, Taiwan, the Philippines, and the United States.

GETRAG FORD Transmissions is one of the first automotive industry manufacturers to use WhereNet's Material Flow-Replenishment System, which combines business intelligence with real-time location and consumption-based demand data. The flexible parts replenishment solution tracks the exact time of every part request, automatically prioritizes the requests, and sends instructions to material handling drivers—whose vehicles are equipped with vehicle-mounted Wi-Fi terminals—telling them where to pick up and deliver the parts. The system promptly alerts both the manufacturer and suppliers when parts are needed on the assembly line, resulting in a synchronous material flow across the supply chain, reduced inventory, and higher productivity.

Running in German and offered in 15 other languages, the WhereNet system at GETRAG FORD Transmissions consists of the Material Flow-Replenishment application; a wireless messaging infrastructure of 220 active RFID WhereCall buttons, each of which is uniquely associated with a part number on the assembly line; a network of 12 wireless WhereLAN location sensors; and five Akerstroms (recently acquired by LXE, an EMS Technologies, Inc. company) rugged, mobile computers, which are mounted on the forklifts.

"The WhereNet material flow system moves us a long way toward our ultimate goal of a completely forklift-less production operation, as we are now operating leaner than ever before," said Ralf Vierkotten, Supervisor, Logistics and Material Handling, GETRAG FORD Transmissions. "Production-line employees no longer need to leave their workstation to help search for parts or to help material control determine the correct part; all they have to do is push a WhereCall active RFID button, and the system notifies all the required parties—from the line side to the forklift driver to the internal warehouse—that more parts are needed. This 'intelligent' automated system supports our lean manufacturing processes as we benefit from real-time inventory consumption and can execute replenishment orders just in time."

Among the benefits GETRAG FORD Transmissions expects to gain from the WhereNet Material Flow-Replenishment System are:

  • Up to 20% improvement in labor productivity
  • A one-third reduction in daily forklift trips
  • A decrease in on-hand inventory from local suppliers from seven days to two days, resulting in lower inventory carrying costs (a savings of more than $750,000), and a reduction in handling and storage costs
  • Improved floor space utilization for storage of parts
  • Increased visibility of plant floor demand
  • Almost complete elimination of line downtime due to parts shortages

Based on the success of this initial implementation, GETRAG FORD Transmissions is planning the rollout of the second phase of the project at its Cologne factory, as well as expansion at other facilities.

Material Flow Supply Chain Execution System Benefits Multiple Partners
WhereNet's Material Flow-Replenishment System controls the routing of material not only throughout the assembly plant, but also across the supply chain. The system's Supplier Portal allows suppliers to receive real-time demand signals and ship parts from within the portal based on that demand. The system manages the synchronous flow of parts from the supplier to the dock door at the plant, from the plant's warehouse to the staging lane, and ultimately to the appropriate assembly-line operator.

"We are proud to add GETRAG FORD Transmissions to our list of automotive customers," said Tom Bacon, general manager, manufacturing and government business, Zebra Enterprise Solutions. "Our new Material Flow-Replenishment System is taking lean, flexible manufacturing to a new level by enabling synchronous material flow from tier-one suppliers to the assembly line. We will continue to expand in this area by adding more asset management applications for equipment, trailer, container and part tracking, to provide our customers with even better visibility and execution across the supply chain."

About GETRAG FORD Transmissions
GETRAG FORD Transmissions is a member of the GETRAG Corporate Group, which is one of the largest independent automotive transmission and drivetrain systems manufacturers worldwide, with approximately 13,600 employees at 25 locations. The company's headquarters is in Untergruppenbach, Germany. The group develops technical solutions for the automotive industry, featuring a wide product range of transmission systems and powertrain components for passenger cars, SUVs, motorbikes, and light commercial vehicles. In 2007, the Group reached a turnover of around 2.6 billion Euros.

About WhereNet
A Zebra Technologies company, WhereNet is the first company to deliver a single wireless location and communication infrastructure that reliably and cost-effectively manages valuable mobile resources and can deliver a complete return on investment within 6-12 months. Based on patented, standards- compliant technology resulting from a collective 100+ years of development, the WhereNet active RFID, real-time locating system solutions enable companies such as APL, BMW, Ford Motor Company, and NYK Logistics and facilities like Tobyhanna Army Depot to reduce inventory, lower operating costs, and improve operations. The company has received the Henry Ford Technology Award; was recognized for strong ROI by Computerworld magazine; was ranked among the top 10 in the InfoWorld 100; and has been recognized as a wireless innovator by Forrester Research, Global Logistics & Supply Chain Strategies, Plant Engineering, and Supply & Demand Chain Executive magazines. Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, WhereNet has offices throughout the United States, as well as in Europe and Asia. For more information, visit the WhereNet Web site or call 408-845-8500 (in the U.S.), +32 3 286 84 50 (in Europe), or +86 21 51758558 (in Asia).


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