Unipart Logistics Tests Active RFID for Automotive Customer

By Claire Swedberg

The U.K. company is using a system from RF Code to track when each of its five trucks are loaded with assembled parts, and when they leave its facility for delivery to a car manufacturing client.


Unipart Logistics is piloting an active RFID-based system from RF Code on its vehicles that transport assembled parts from its own facility in Oxford to an automotive vehicle manufacturer in the United Kingdom. Unipart Logistics, a division of Unipart Group (a global manufacturer, full service logistics provider and consultant in lean and operational excellence), aims to determine how much value can be gained from capturing automatic data regarding when loaded vehicles pass from one location to another, thereby identifying which vehicle (and, subsequently, the goods within it) are on their way to a particular client.

A pilot commenced two weeks ago, and is expected to continue for several more months. The goal, says Richard Hankinson, Unipart Logistics’ automotive director, is not only to determine whether the collection of read data can benefit his company, by improving visibility into when goods were moved, but also to provide those results to its customers. If both Unipart and its clients determine that RFID is useful in tracking data about when goods were transported out of the Unipart facility, the firm intends to launch a permanent deployment that will include additional details, such as when delivery trucks arrive at a client’s site, and—by tagging the cargo—what those vehicles contain. Unipart hopes to market the solution as an added value for all of its customers.

Unipart Logistics offers production services (the manufacturing of products such as automotive parts) and after-market services (moving goods from supplier to customers). , According to Hankinson, the company has been investigating the value of RFID technology to improve supply chain efficiency for more than a decade.

The company found that the RFID technology it had tested provided limited value to the after-market industry, since monitoring the movements of goods often consisted of tracking large containers on sea vessels, and the exact timing of such transportation is not vital. However, Hankinson says, in the case of production, timing can be very critical. In this case, Unipart Logistics manufactures parts that must be used in assembly by an automotive company, and must be delivered at very precise times in order to avoid causing production delays on the auto company’s assembly line. “Even 10 minutes outside of a delivery window is a problem,” Hankinson states.

Unipart Logistics began working with RF Code to develop a system that, first and foremost, brought confirmation to Unipart and the car company that the assembled parts were loaded and transported when needed. It applied RF Code’s 433 MHz active RFID tags inside the cabs of five delivery trucks, says Mitch Medford, RF Code’s CEO. Each tag’s unique ID number is linked to that vehicle’s identifier in RF Code software hosted on Unipart’s back-end system. Unipart Logistics also maintains records in its own software indicating which goods are loaded onto each vehicle. As such, if a question should arise regarding when a specific item was shipped, Unipart can cross-reference that information with the RF Code RFID read data.

RF Code installed two readers at Unipart Logistics’ site, one at the loading dock for goods coming from its sequencing center (where parts are received from suppliers, organized according to sequence of need, and then taken to the loading dock for shipment to Unipart’s client), as well as products arriving from the exhaust-system assembly line. A second reader is installed at the gate to the public road that trucks use to travel from Unipart to a client’s site. In this way, the company now collects data about when a delivery truck is present at the loading dock, and when it continues on to the gate. With this data, the firm not only can collect historical information, but also search for a vehicle in real time, by identifying when it left the gate and, thus, when it should be expected at the customer’s facility.

Initially, Hankinson reports, the solution is intended “to provide some comfort for the client that the parts are on their way,” since Unipart is collecting the automated data and can share it with the automotive manufacturer when requested. In the future, Unipart may provide the solution as a permanent deployment, in order to add value to its services for customers. In that case, Hankinson says, he expects that readers may be installed at the client’s gate and receiving dock as well. Unipart could also opt to share all RFID data with its clients automatically, enabling them to simply go online with a password and search for a specific vehicle. If Unipart begins tagging products, or the containers in which parts are transported, a customer could also locate a specific item being transported, and not just the vehicle in which that item is contained.

“The initial benefit is confidence” that vehicles are moving in a timely manner, Hankinson explains. In the future, he imagines the collected read data being used in a variety of ways, such as enabling customers to sign into the software and place or change orders based on the existing movements of vehicles and the goods contained within.