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Whirlpool Adopts RFID for Parts Identification

The system, deployed in the paint department at a washing machine manufacturing facility, enables real-time work-in-process inventory management.
By John Edwards
Aug 26, 2013

Whirlpool Corp. is the world's leading manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances. Its Clyde Division, based in Clyde, Ohio, is the largest washing machine facility worldwide, covering roughly 2.5 million square feet. Maintaining a highly accurate parts count is necessary to ensure the constant availability of parts for production, says Bradford W. St. Louis, the company's senior materials engineer.

The input to the paint line is raw stamped parts, while the output is ready-to-assemble washing machine components. Accurate parts tracking also affects finished product quality, St. Louis says. "We paint our cabinets in a different area from our tops and lids, so we have to make sure we have everything matching," he explains.

The company replaced its paper tag-based parts-identification system with a more efficient RFID solution.
Yet, until recently, employees could only identify the racks of raw stamped metal tops and lids in production by reading the information printed on attached paper tags. That process was both paper-intensive and error-prone, St. Louis says.

Last year, the company decided to replace its paper tag-based parts-identification system with a more efficient RFID solution. "Whirlpool puts cutting-edge technologies to use in areas where they promise to be the most effective," St. Louis states.

Whirlpool's washing machine paint line is continuously fed with parts that are transported to the area aboard tagged mobile racks. "On our old system, workers would hang the parts on paint hooks," St. Louis recalls. "The parts would then go onto the line and come out painted." Workers would next take the painted parts and place them onto a rack, with a white paper tag with a part number on it identifying each part. "They would hang the tag with a metal hook that looks like a bent paper clip," he says. "Then a fork truck driver would be able to identify the parts that were on that rack." As the painted parts headed toward storage, a paint line worker would also manually enter the information into an electronic journal.

The process was inelegant. "The tags sometimes fell off, or the racks were inadvertently placed behind other racks with a different part number because we're very limited on space here," he explains. "Even though we're a 2.5 million-square-foot facility, we have limited room to spare."

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