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Osram Sylvania Lightens Its Workload

The lightbulb maker uses I.D. Systems' RFID solution to automatically replenish the supply of materials on assembly lines, as well as track the activities of its forklifts.
By Claire Swedberg
Oct 12, 2009Lighting product manufacturer Osram Sylvania is employing an RFID system to illuminate the activities of its forklifts, thereby ensuring drivers' efficiency and automating the stocking of incandescent lightbulb components at assembly lines as the bulbs are manufactured at the company's facility in St. Mary's, Pa.

In November 2008, Osram Sylvania went live with the system, which uses software and hardware from I.D. Systems and integrates with Sylvania's own assembly line computers and sensors. Thanks to this integration, computers that determine when the assembly line's supply of materials or components is low can send a replenishment order to the company's back-end system. The system then transmits instructions to the Vehicle Access Communication (VAC) device—an onboard computer that functions like an RFID tag—of the nearest available forklift, requesting that its driver fulfill the replenishment order. It also tracks the activities of each driver and forklift throughout their shifts.

To date, the system has saved the company 14 percent of its forklift labor, while also eliminating the need for extra supplies that were stored at the assembly lines to ensure the lines' operations were never delayed by the lack of components to build lightbulbs.

Until this system was installed, the movement of lightbulb components to the assembly areas was managed manually by forklift operators, says Rick Rupp, the company's DC and warehouse operations manager. Drivers of the 450,000-square-foot facility's seven forklifts were responsible for visually determining when new parts needed to be picked up from the warehouse and delivered to where they were needed. They maintained a "safety stock" that amounted to an extra storage of inventory at each assembly line, in order to ensure the materials could be easily accessed if supplies being used on that line ran out.

Sylvania assigned a design team to seek ways to improve productivity within the material handling of raw glass to the manufacturing lines. The team found that the workload per driver was not fully equal, Rupp says, because they were assigned zones or departments to support, and the requirements of those areas varied from hour to hour and day to day. The company also determined that by dispatching tasks throughout the plant, rather than to an assigned staff member, the workload could be equalized and material handling would be more productive.

Osram Sylvania wanted an improved system for managing replenishment, as well as greater visibility into the work being done by forklift operators. The resulting solution would require some creativity on the part of Sylvania's engineers. First, the company installed photo ID sensors at the point at which new components are stored to be used on the assembly line. The sensors detect when inventory levels have dropped too low, says Ann Florio, a Sylvania engineer, and sends an alert to the firm's programmable logic controller (PLC) —an assembly line computer receiving and processing data regarding the status of component inventory on the assembly floor.

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