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Land Rover Test-Drives RFID to Track Parts Containers

The U.K. automaker is working with a U.K. research group on a pilot using active RFID tags to increase the visibility of containers, full or empty, entering or leaving an assembly plant.
By Claire Swedberg
Feb 05, 2008Land Rover, a U.K. division of Ford Motor Co., is working with the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG), a research group at the University of Warwick in Coventry, to test the use of RFID for tracking containers filled with automotive parts coming into the automaker's assembly plant in the West Midlands, as well as empty containers leaving the factory.

The pilot has been running for three months and is part of a major program funded by Advantage West Midlands, a federally run regional development agency that provided £32 million ($64 million) to help the West Midlands manufacturing community better compete with manufacturers in Asia. Funding for the RFID pilot has totaled about £600,000 ($1.2 million).

Philip Foster
The trial set out to determine whether RFID could cut down on lost or misplaced containers. Generally, says Philip Foster, a principal fellow at the WMG, the loss of containers carrying auto parts to assembly plants averages at about 10 percent of all shipments—a problem that costs Land Rover approximately £1.2 million ($2.4 million) annually, due to the value of the containers and the parts being shipped, as well as the time needed to locate them.

The WMG first began seeking an RFID-based solution in 2003, to help companies track parts-filled containers en route to the assembly plant. The group found that Savi Technology offered an ideal solution, which included a 433 MHz active RFID tag that bolts to containers and can be read from up to 100 meters away. The tag is designed to work in a heavy metal environment where containers are move through portals and gates often and quickly.

After four years of research and development, the WMG launched the RFID pilot in October 2007, involving 22 suppliers and the 308-acre Land Rover assembly facility in the West Midlands' town of Solihull. The lengthy research phase was necessary due to time spent not only locating an RFID hardware vendor, but also securing participation from auto parts vendors, writing software for the system and testing the hardware. According to Foster, Land Rover's assembly plant was a good choice for the pilot because it recently began producing four additional vehicle lines (Range Rover, Range Rover Sport, Discovery and Defender). Thus, he says, production is relatively high-volume and high-profile. The plant now assembles 200,000 vehicles annually.

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