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RFID Helps Thermo King Streamline Parts Replenishment

At its factory where vehicular heating and air-conditioning systems are made, employees press a button to alert management whenever parts need to be replenished, thereby preventing work stoppages and part overstocks.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 03, 2009To ensure that the quantity of parts it maintains in inventory remains optimal, Thermo King, a manufacturer of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning equipment for buses, trains and trucks, is employing an active RFID system.

Using AeroScout tags, the system is built onto the company's existing Wi-Fi system and was integrated by IMEC Technologies in Thermo King's Galway production facility, located on the west coast of Ireland. If all goes well, the company says it may expand the system to all 11 of its production facilities worldwide. This year, the firm is also in the process of expanding its usage of RFID at the Galway facility to include to asset tracking.

The immediate challenge for Thermo King involved the development of what it calls its e-Kanban system (a signaling system to trigger an action such as inventory replenishment) that enables it to better manage the number of parts available at all stations at which workers assemble parts to produce heating or cooling units. With the proper information, says Amir Ben-Assa, AeroScout's industry solutions marketing director, replenishment can be managed so that the company does not have an excessive quantity of parts on the manufacturing floor, or suffer shortages resulting in work stoppages. At press time, Thermo King had not responded to requests for comment.

The manual part-replenishment system Thermo King employed prior to adopting RFID had several shortcomings. The work of assembling parts is typically carried out at stations throughout the facility. If workers discover they are running out of parts used during the assembly process, they must contact management, either by phone or by walking to the person in charge of ordering replenishment. If the company's on-floor inventory of parts used in the assembly of its heating or cooling units runs out, work is stopped until additional components can be brought in from the warehouse.

To avoid such problems, companies typically store a high level of inventory at assembly lines and stations. Space is tight at such facilities, however, as it is at Thermo King's production plant. "They don't have unlimited space," Ben-Assa says, "so what they are trying to do is establish a kanban system in which they only pull inventory [from the warehouse] when it is required."

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