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Land Rover Embraces RTLS, RFID for Supply Chain and WIP

Land Rover is using two separate RTLS systems at its large production facility in Solihull, UK. A pilot system used by Land Rover and 18 of its suppliers provides real-time visibility of specialized shipping containers used to deliver parts to the automaker. The second system tracks finished vehicles until they are shipped.
Feb 12, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 12, 2008—Land Rover vehicles are built to go off road, and the company now uses a variety of real-time wireless tracking technologies to keep production and delivery on track. Land Rover and 18 of its suppliers are conducting an RFID pilot to track parts shipments to its manufacturing plant in Solihull, UK, where a separate real-time location system (RTLS) is used to track finished vehicles before they are shipped to dealers.

Land Rover has tracked more than 150,000 finished vehicles at its 308-acre Solihull facility with RTLS in the last year. The automaker has installed 180 RTLS readers and sensors from WhereNet at the ends of assembly lines, at outdoor storage areas, and at other key points. More than 4,000 tags are in use, and the location of each is updated every four minutes.

"Since we typically 'build and hold' such vehicles as part of our quality assurance processes, tracking them down must happen quickly and efficiently. The automated WhereNet system regularly updates the exact whereabouts of every vehicle on site; and through association of the WhereTag with the vehicle identification number, we have all of the data in a single system to let us optimize work in process," Land Rover's Dave O'Reilly said in WhereNet's announcement.

Land Rover credits the system for reducing labor, raising manufacturing productivity, and improving a variety of processes. The company reported receiving full return-on-investment in nine months, but did not provide details about system costs or labor and cost saving data. WhereNet RTLS systems of this type typically cost $400,000 to $1 million to install, according to a company spokesperson. A nine-month ROI based on that cost range equates to saving approximately between $44,000 and $111,000 per month.

Land Rover is also seeking to improve its inbound logistics with a new tracking system. It is conducting a pilot with 18 suppliers to track specialized parts shipping containers from suppliers to the Solihull factory, and back. The pilot, which uses active RFID equipment from Savi Technology, began last summer and is scheduled to run through the end of March, when results and continued use will be assessed, Kempton Cannons, Savi's UK director of business development, told RFID Update.

The pilot was funded with a $1.2 million Premiere Automotive Research and Development (PARD) grant from the UK government, administered through the University of Warwick, according to the announcement by Savi.

"This application is a bit of a crossover," said Cannons. "It is an asset management application that crosses over into the supply chain. Automotive is a great area for RFID because many environments are closed loop with just the supplier and the manufacturer."

Many parts and components are delivered to the Solihull facility in item-specific specialized containers called stillages. The containers are reusable and expensive, and must be managed to ensure suppliers have enough on hand to meet parts delivery commitments. In the pilot, active RFID tags were placed on about 6,000 stillages, and readers were installed at supplier shipping docks and at various receiving and transfer points at Land Rover's facility. Land Rover and its suppliers can use a web-based interface to get real-time information on the stillage locations and inventory levels.

"What we've learned is that everyone begins with an asset management view of how to manage stillages, but it becomes a supply chain view," Cannons said. "Now people have a single view of what they have on stock, what is in transit, and where things are at the production facility. Suppliers are starting to use the data to see how many stillages they need. They have been very pleased with what they've learned."

Land Rover and its sister companies have been especially good for RTLS and other RFID suppliers. Land Rover and Jaguar are part of Ford Motor Company. All three automakers are high-profile RTLS users. In 1998 Ford became one of the first industrial RTLS users when it installed a WhereNet system to replenish parts on the assembly line. The system is still in use today, and Land Rover put a similar system in its Solihull plant in 2002. In 2006 Jaguar announced it would use active RFID to track shipments of parts from the UK to dealers in the US (see Jaguar Signs On as Savi Extends RFID Network to UK). Ford also recently made news with passive RFID when it announced F Series pickups and E Series vans will be available with optional embedded RFID readers to track tools and cargo (see Ford Builds RFID into Pickups and Vans to Track Cargo).
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