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Trane Restocks Supplies at Assembly Plant Via RFID

The heating and air-conditioning systems manufacturer has improved efficiency by having its logistic centers attach passive UHF RFID tags to the packaging of components shipped to its factory.
By Claire Swedberg
Jul 23, 2013

The factory that produces Trane heating and air-conditioning systems in Tyler, Texas, uses a kanban (just-in-time-ordering) system to ensure the efficient movement of components from a third-party warehouse to the plant. Since 2009, the company—a division of Ingersoll Rand—has been utilizing a portal-based software solution provided by Ultriva to help suppliers, as well as warehouse and factory personnel, ensure that materials flow to the assembly line as needed, without falling behind or backing up. By using this system, the company is able to stock just two hours' worth of supplies on the plant floor, thereby conserving space and ensuring that components are always available but never stockpiled longer than necessary.

This year, however, Trane has boosted that efficiency by adding RFID technology to automate the process of identifying when supplies are received at its Tyler plant. A process that used to last approximately 30 minutes—the receiving of goods at the factory's warehouse, and the scanning of those products' bar codes—now takes only about five minutes to complete, as workers pass the RFID-tagged goods through a fixed RFID reader.

Trane hopes that the RFID implementation will save it about $120,000 annually in reduced labor costs.

Prior to the RFID deployment, the Ultriva system created an automatic link between orders received and the picking and shipping process. When additional goods were needed from suppliers, Trane posted orders on the Ultriva Web-based portal, residing on a server hosted by a third-party behind Trane's firewall. Its suppliers would access that portal, and most responded by shipping goods directly to one of the company's two third-party logistics centers, while a few send them directly to a warehouse at the Tyler plant.

Once an item was received at the logistics center or warehouse, a worker scanned the packaging's bar-coded ID number. That ID, linked to that item's description in the software, was then stored, indicating what was received and was now available.

At the factory, if an assembly line ran short of components, the assembly staff would input an order into the Ultriva portal. One of the two logistics centers, or the plant's warehouse, would then receive that order and send the requested components to the plant, where workers at receiving dock would scan each item's bar code once more.

This process, says Reuben Thurman, an Ingersoll Rand IT operations analyst for Trane's Tyler facility, was faster than a system in use before 2009, by which much of the tracking was accomplished manually, on paper. But the bar-code-based method still required workers to scan each individual bar code, which was time-consuming. Adding RFID to the system, he says, makes that step much easier.

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