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Adding RFID to Ford's Supply Chain

An active-tag RFID deployment from TNT Logistics helps Ford automate workflow, provide real-time visibility, reduce inventory and prevent business interruption.
By Terry McIntyre
Apr 24, 2006There are no mandates for using radio frequency identification in the automotive industry today, as there are in retail with Wal-Mart, or with the government and the Department of Defense. While the automotive sector has been using RFID successfully in production processes for some time now, the use of it elsewhere in the supply chain has been slow in coming—until now.

In 2005, TNT Logistics North America launched an RFID initiative designed to help its automotive customers automate workflow, provide real-time visibility, reduce inventory and prevent business interruption in their complex supply chains. The initiative was piloted with Ford Motor Co.'s F150 truck assembly plant in Dearborn, Mich.

TNT Logistics North America is part of a global logistics company that designs, implements and operates complex supply chain solutions on a national, regional or global scale for midsize to large enterprises. Its goal with the RFID program was to contribute to the success of Ford and other suppliers by embracing new technology and developing innovative, value-added services.

As part of the Ford/TNT initiative, active (battery-powered) RFID tags and a network of wireless locating sensors supplied by WhereNet have been set up to provide real-time location and status information for thousands of mobile racks shared between the assembly plant and TNT's North American material-sequencing center (MSC). The center is a 375,000-square-foot facility that receives, picks, packs and ships parts to the Ford F150 assembly plant. The parts are sequenced into custom-designed racks and ready for delivery to the plant for immediate installation on vehicles moving down the assembly line. Devices located at MSC's dock doors trigger the active RFID tags to identify the dock door, trailer number and load ID when a rack filled with parts is loaded onto a truck bound for the Ford assembly plant. Through this automatic data-collection process, utilizing RFID technology, the system confirms the load has been built, and validates its ready-to-ship status. The system even triggers an advance shipping notice (ASN) so the factory knows what material is en route.

Additional steps in the initiative include automated gate-arrival, load and unload validation, rack traceability and real-time location system (RTLS) alerts to improve communications between the MSC and the assembly plant. To help prevent interruptions and manual interventions in the automotive supply chain process, these business events are fulfilled using Tibco Software's complex business-event processing and real-time visibility software.

When deployed by all the participants in Ford's supply chain, the system will provide real-time visibility of all parts as they move from the supplier to the carrier, the MSC, the plant and ultimately the final destination: the assembly line. What's more, the solution will help to automate workflow, reduce inventory and prevent business interruption in the assembly process.

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