Kuwaiti Car Dealership Streamlines Repair Service

By Rhea Wessel

Al Ghanim Automotive is using Zebra's RFID technology to improve customer service, document the repair process and save time.

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One of the world’s largest General Motors dealerships and service centers, Al Ghanim Automotive in Kuwait, is using RFID to track cars that it moves from zone to zone inside the company’s new multistory complex while the cars are being serviced.

Al Ghanim implemented the system, with the help of RFID systems integrator TagStone, when it moved into a large, new building and consolidated several car service centers into one, explained TagStone’s director of product marketing, Reza Shibli, during the RFID Journal LIVE! Middle East conference held in Dubai last week. Before implementing RFID, Al Ghanim used pen and paper to track the movement of cars in its service centers. Now, in a service center that can accommodate more than 800 cars, the company relies on 2.4 GHz active RFID tags to keep an overview of the whereabouts of the vehicles and the status of repairs.

The automotive company came up with the idea and selected Dubai-based TagStone to implement the project. Shibli says the system uses more than 1,000 WhereTag IV active RFID tags and 100 WherePort tag exciters from Zebra Enterprise Solutions (ZES), a division of Zebra Technologies Corp. The WherePort exciters, deployed at various points throughout the facility, emit a magnetic field that triggers a WhereTag IV tag to transmit an alternate signal pattern, thus indicating that the car has arrived in a certain zone.

The active tags, which comply with the ISO 24730-2 real-time location standard (RTLS) standard, are mounted on plastic hangers that dangle from a car’s rearview mirror. When a customer drives up to the service center, he is given the tag after an Al Ghanim employee scans the bar-coded number printed on the hanger and links that number in the database to the job card, which functions as work order. As the customer pulls his car forward toward a choice of lanes to drive into, the active tag transmits out its ID number, which is coupled with the hanger’s bar-coded number in the system’s database. Based on the tag signals triggered by the WherePort exciters installed in the area, the system determines the vehicle’s location.

Once the reader has identified the car, a large LCD system displays instructions for customer, with an arrow directing the driver to a specific lane. The choice of lanes is determined by the system’s business intelligence: Drivers of premium cars, like Hummers, may be directed to a VIP lane, for instance, said Rami Darwish, TagStone’s vice president of sales and development.

The customer pulls the car into the proper lane, where an awaiting service technician determines what repairs need to be made and what they will cost, and discusses his findings with the customer. The customer then accepts or rejects the recommendations, and the technician enters all this information into the system under the job number, so that it can be analyzed later by the service center’s managers to better understand the types of repair recommendations that are accepted and declined and resolve any customer complaints regarding that technician.

After a plan of action has been made, the customer leaves behind his car, and an employee drives the car to the center’s rooftop parking lot, which can hold roughly 300 cars. RFID readers installed in the parking lot receive the signals transmitted by car’s RFID tag, and based on that data, the system determines where the car is parked, within an accuracy of 3 meters.

When a service technician is ready to begin work on the vehicle, he goes to a computer terminal and opens the job order for the vehicle. The location information for the vehicle is combined with the service center’s existing dealership management software, called ADP Autoline. This allows him to retrieve the car quickly, saving valuable time that could otherwise be lost searching for the vehicle. The technician brings the car to the work bay, where a combination of readers and exciters identify the car and the zone in which it is located. After the repairs are finished, a worker moves the car to the carwash station and then back to the parking lot, where it is parked until the customer comes to retrieve it.

“Zones are the virtual areas that the service center is split into. A zone can contain as few as zero or as many bays as practical,” said Shibli. “At Al Ghanim, we use WherePorts to create wireless gates into and out of virtual zones. On the rooftop, we use RTLS to accurately determine the vehicle’s location.”

When a customer is ready to pick up his vehicle, he must first pay his bill, and then a service center employee locates and retrieves the car based on the information collected via RFID. The employee drives the car to the exit gate. If the invoice is not paid, the arm will not raise, thus preventing the car from passing through the gate. If the system indicates that the invoice was paid, and the arm at the gate raises so the car can leave the service center and be handed over to the customer. Before the customer gets the car, however, the RFID tag is deregistered from the system and returned to be reused

Shibli said the main benefits of the system are higher customer satisfaction and increased productivity through less wasted time looking for cars. In addition, the service center benefits from greater visibility about the time needed for various processes, such as specific repairs or car washing.

Al Ghanim has been using the system for about one year. Another large facility, the Emirates Motor Company Mercedes Service Center in Abu Dhabi, recently implemented a similar car-tracking system, with the help of TagStone. In addition, TagStone and Zebra recently announced a partnership agreement to provide similar vehicle management systems to other automotive dealerships in the region.