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RFID Helps ZF Speed Transmission Shipments

The German auto parts supplier is using passive UHF tags to improve inventory accuracy and just-in-time delivery, and is now considering expanding the system to achieve even greater visibility of parts containers.
By Rhea Wessel
Aug 06, 2008ZF Friedrichshafen, a German supplier of transmissions and chassis components to major vehicle manufacturers worldwide, has implemented a radio frequency identification-based container management system as part of its facility upgrades. The RFID application improves the shipping process by reducing the time required for handling containers. Now the company is performing tests to determine which other processes may be improved via RFID.

A passive UHF tag is attached to each container.

ZF maintains 119 plants in 25 countries and employs approximately 57,000 people. In 2007, reported revenues were €12.65 billion ($19.5 billion). At its plant in Friedrichshafen, near Germany's Lake Constance, the company manufactures transmissions and drivelines for commercial vehicles made by MAN and Iveco, among others.

Truck makers increasingly demand not only "just-in-time" shipping but also "just-in-sequence," and ZF wanted to improve its processes to be able to ship the correct goods at the right time in the proper sequence. ZF saw an article in a trade magazine regarding an RFID system implemented by Tricon, an Austrian RFID systems integrator, and contacted the company.

Jürgen Kusper
The RFID system Tricon set up in late 2006 employs 15,000 to 20,000 passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags and tracks 1,000 container movements per day, and has been running without problems since it went live at the end of 2006. The company has discussed rolling out the system at other plants, says Jürgen Kusper, Tricon's project manager, but no decision has yet been made.

The system has provided ZF with a more accurate inventory of its containers than in the past. Before RFID was implemented, the company counted containers manually on specific days to determine average inventories. In addition, Kusper says, RFID has helped ZF minimize the loss of costly containers, though he is unable at this time to provide further details about annual losses or the price the company pays for the containers. "Now," he states, "the company knows which containers have been returned from its customers and which containers are available for shipments."

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