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Car Insulation Maker Uses Hybrid System to Track Materials, Products
At Midwest Acoust-A-Fiber's factory, workers scan bar codes to identify items, while RFID identifies their location within the plant.
Dec 04, 2008—Midwest Acoust-A-Fiber (MWAAF), which supplies automakers with high-temperature insulation and noise-suppressing composite fiber materials for new vehicles, is employing a hybrid RFID-based system at one of its two plants in Delaware, Ohio, in order to track raw materials as they enter the facility and are used in manufacturing. The factory also utilizes the system, provided by Analytica, to track its finished products when they are placed in a storage area at the warehouse, and when they are shipped to customers.
Midwest Acoust-A-Fiber supplies its products to such companies as General Motors, Chrysler and Ford Motor Co.. The firm custom-designs heat shields used in vehicular exhaust systems, catalytic converters and engine manifolds sustaining temperature ranges of up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit (1,260 degrees Celsius). The company also manufactures products to absorb noise coming from an engine, or under the body of a vehicle. At its two facilities, Midwest Acoust-A-Fiber employs 150 workers and operates 24 hours a day, five days a week, to meet the needs of its customers. Its annual revenues in 2007 was reported as topping $25 million.
Fiberglass and other raw materials arrive at the plant in rolls that are stored and then consumed during manufacturing. Finished products are stored in MWAAF's warehouse, then later sent to automotive manufacturers. With a growing operation in a limited amount of space, the company has developed a very tightly designed manufacturing facility with a growing number of assembly lines and production output. By employing bar codes with RFID, the firm can ensure it has the materials it needs on hand, without developing a space-consuming overstock.
Manually inputted records of shipment arrivals and departures provided MWAAF's managers with a solid understanding of the raw materials coming into the factory, as well as the shipments of finished products sent out. However, their knowledge of the plant's raw-material consumption and productivity rates was limited to a set of weekly or monthly reports. Three separate employee shifts work throughout each 24-hour period, making it difficult for workers to have a clear understanding of where materials and finished products were located, and what the quantity was.
"One of the main things we wanted," says Andrew Callahan, Midwest Acoust-A-Fiber's IT manager, "was to monitor our raw material, so that we had an accurate inventory count at any time."
Midwest Acoust-A-Fiber sought a solution that would take advantage of bar-coded labels already attached to rolls of raw material arriving from suppliers, as well as the bar-coded labels MWAAF places on boxes of its finished products for auto manufacturers. The bar-coding system alone would not allow the company to see where products were located within the facility, however, because the system knew only that the bar codes had been read, not where they had been read.
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