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To thrive and grow as a tier one global manufacturer of auto seating systems and components requires precision production and very quick turnaround times

Omni IDTo support the need for time and material precision, one of the most critical parts of the process is ensuring the right parts are picked, kitted and delivered to the assembly line for production. Historically this process had been managed by paper lists and pick tickets, which was inefficient and prone to manual error. This manufacturer was looking to automate the pick process with a visual system and they selected ProVIEW from Omni-ID.

The e-paper based system directly replaces the paper - fitting seamlessly into existing process – with minimal to no training for operators.

There are a number of challenges that ProVIEW helped the customer to overcome and address to develop a truly flexible and hands-free, paperless pick system — without completely changing the process:

• Timing

A critically important issue with picking is ensuring it is timely and accurate. The efficiency of an entire manufacturing operation depends on having the right materials to start. Ensuring the pick lists were quickly available via tablet or monitor and the operator had the visual indicators necessary on the racks via the ‘View’ tag, in order to begin the pick were essential.

• Control and confirmation

Controlling the timing sequence for when a new pick list is available and able to start automatically is essential to the process. It was also required that operator acknowledge that the correct part is picked – or when the prior pick was completed with a simple button press – this helped to automate and accelerate the whole process.

Test and refine

The application was deployed in stages, first as a pilot in the manufacturing environment.

The customer has multiple facilities in the heart of the auto industry and around the globe. Field trials included a small pick line in each facility where the paper “pick list” was replaced with a wifi-enabled tablet, and the paper pick tickets were replaced with ‘View’ tags on each of the racks and shelves to indicate visually what to pick and where to pick it from — completely automating the process.

With technology and customisation trends expanding how do factories keep up?For 40 years, paper has been a trusted flag in manufacturing, providing sequential work instructions for operators. This simple visual cue has been the core of a process which balances production and creates more efficient just-in time inventory. It may then be a surprise to many who work in the industry to find out that the static paper-based, or kanban systems that have been at the core of material flow management for decades are also the number one cause of factory inefficiency today.

Despite the need to change, it’s easy to see why other systems have been unsuccessful in replacing traditional paper: paper is simple, reliable, visual and familiar to the workforce.

However, it’s highly inflexible. Once the paper label is placed onto a container and launched into the process, its instructions or trajectory cannot be changed without a significant amount of human resources or costly manual work-arounds. It cannot be tracked or communicate with robots or machines on the line. A next-generation system ideally needs all these attributes while still retaining the simplicity and reliability of paper.

Enter the IIoT and “Smart Materials

The Industrial Internet of Things has been a key driver to bring new interactive technologies to existing processes like material flow management. Omni-ID developed ProVIEW, an innovative combination of e-paper, RF communication and simple business logic, in response to this demand for technology to make material “Smart”.In most factories, the scheduling team meets in the mornings to determine the demands for the day and create the jobs and output to match. The schedule is committed to hundreds of paper labels with instructions upon them and manually affixed to the racks of materials for the day. What if something goes wrong? Will you make the schedule for the day? Instead, a wirelessly updated, e-paper ‘View’ tag is placed on containers routing through the manufacturing process. Unlike paper, the location aware tags change instructions along the route to tell operators what to do with them next and where to go if there are bottlenecks or other issues. These “Smart Materials” also become immediately traceable in real time.

This system is the first of its kind to provide paperless, wireless and interactive material flow management – along with end to end process visibility.

Every rack, item, container on the factory floor is tracked by its location, state and condition – which can be dynamically changed at any time to accommodate a work flow change. Repurposing some material for another part of the line or staging it to balance flow? No problem. Machine is down and material needs to be re-routed to optimise output? ProVIEW can take care of that.

Common examples of how ProVIEW’s Pick and Replenishment are being used to ensure timely and accurate delivery of parts:

Issue: Ensuring pick accuracy

Without a system, even experienced operators can pick incorrect parts. Training new or inexperienced operators on pick processes can be difficult. Finding parts is time consuming and ensuring that the correct parts are selected is challenging, often resulting in incorrect kitting and delayed delivery of parts lineside.

Resolution: View tags provide simple visual instruction on each rack or bin for pick and put, making finding the correct location and ensuring the correct part is picked simple. Operators confirm pick with simple button press. Virtually no training or retraining is necessary. Hands-free system eliminates the need for hand-held readers and has increased pick rates by 25% even with experienced operators.

Issue: Reconfiguring pick areas

Setting up to enable optimal picking when a new job is put to the floor can take a week or two depending on the installation of shelves, racks, configuring or even coding the picking software to match the setup. With changes happening more and more often, this wasted time is becoming significant in the overall efficiency.

Resolution: Wireless View tags make it easy to swap out parts or reset a pick area. View tags can be quickly mounted where they are needed with simple Velcro tape or snap in brackets. What took a week can literally take an hour, making quick changeovers possible for competitive advantage.

Issue: Timely parts replenishment

Ensuring parts availability lineside or in the picking areas is critical to process efficiency. Manual replenishment or visual flags do not ensure timely notification of need or delivery of parts. Drivers often miss the queues with indirect instruction causing delays.

Resolution: Lineside operators simply press the View tag button to indicate they need parts – and the order is automatically placed in the pick and driver queues or dashboards. Parts are replenished automatically at pick locations utilising this same approach or via automated switching indicating when bins are empty. ProVIEW tracking and automation helps lower inventory and reduce labour to keep the line replenished.

Issue: Right parts, right place, right time

Parts are often hard to distinguish from one another – if installed in the wrong sequence it can destroy the value of an entire batch. This could result in a costly write-off of the entire WIP.

Resolution: Each View tag ensures that its rack or container is associated to a specific work process. If it arrives out of order, it automatically signals the operator with a message indicating that they should not use the materials as they have arrived out of order. ProVIEW bridges the gap between pick and lineside.