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John Deere Planter Factory Gains Efficiency

AeroScout Wi-Fi RFID tags allow the equipment manufacturer's kitting staff to boost material replenishment speed, and assembly workers to prepare for specific equipment as it approaches their assembly stations.
By Claire Swedberg
The tags, which the factory refers to as call boxes, were attached to kit carts, which measure 6 feet by 4 feet by 2.5 feet in size. Each cart is dedicated to a specific material or part, and the tag on the container has a unique ID number that is linked to data about those materials or parts in the back-end software. When the carts are filled, they are manually rolled to the welding area, while each cart's AeroScout tag transmits its unique ID number. Based on that signal, AeroScout software determines the tag's location, and that data is sent to John Deere's back-end system, which then determines the container's location and therefore its status—empty and being refilled in the kitting area, or full and being unloaded as items are welded in the assembly area. Prime Technologies designed the Web-based software system that links AeroScout's software to interfaces with SAP. "Our software is what the operators use in both systems to interface with and visualize in real time," says Kubica.

When a kit cart is close to being empty, staff in the welding area press a button on the AeroScout tag to indicate it will soon need replenishment. The tag transmits that event to the Wi-Fi nodes, sending the request to the back-end software, which then displays the kit cart's ID number, contents and need for replenishment on an LCD screen located in the kitting area. Staff see the display on the screen and walk to the welding area to retrieve the cart.

The company also wanted to use the system to manage work in progress at its assembling lines. Many of the products the factory makes are unique, and therefore the assembly process varies according to each piece of equipment that passes down the line. Because assembly steps and quantity of pieces for each upcoming product was often unknown, there was little preparation possible for staff in the assembly area. The Wi-Fi system was designed to resolve that.

In this case, a tag is attached with a magnet to each piece of seeder equipment that is being assembled (typically about 30 seeders are on the assembly line at one time). Each tag's unique ID number is linked to the product information, such as what kind of piece is being assembled, its serial number and the date. The software stores the details of what assembly process each kind of equipment must go through, and where the appropriate assembly stations are located, through which the equipment must pass.

The Wi-Fi nodes read the tag of each seeder as it passes from one assembly station to another, indicating where it has been and what its next assembly location will be. In this way, management can see at what point the equipment is in, as well as how much time it spends at each station. At each station, an LCD screen displays exactly what pieces of equipment are going to be arriving from another station, and how many of them there are. In that way, staff can prepare for coming tasks, and even request more assistance, or offer assistance elsewhere based on the volume of equipment on its way to the station.

Altogether there is one LCD screen in the kitting area, eight on the main assembly line and 11 in various subassembly and welding areas throughout the factory.

"Our goal was to improve Takt time," says O'Neal, who expects the reduction to increase from what he estimates may be about 5 percent improvement in Takt time thus far. He reckons there has been a 40 percent reduction in cycle time because of the improvement in replenishment. He has also seen a decrease in overtime work undertaken by kitting staff at the welding station.

"I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the system met our needs," O'Neal says.

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